SANFORD, Fla. — George Zimmerman can be released on $150,000 bail as he awaits trial for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a judge ruled Friday during a hearing in which Zimmerman apologize to Martin's parents for the teenager's death.
Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester set several conditions for Zimmerman's release, which he said would not occur Friday. He did not say exactly when Zimmerman could go free. Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, also wants his client to be allowed to live in another state because of threats made against him, and wear a GPS monitor to track his whereabouts.
Wearing a charcoal suit, white shirt and gray tie — but also shackled and appearing to have on a bulletproof vest — Zimmerman took the witness stand to deliver a short statement to Martin's parents, who were in court.
"I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son. I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am. I did not know if he was armed or not," Zimmerman said in his first public comments about the shooting.
The judge said he would hold another hearing on whether Zimmerman could go out of state if details could not be worked out with law enforcement.
Zimmerman cannot have any guns, drink alcohol or use illegal drugs and must observe a curfew between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. Zimmerman surrendered his passport at the start of the hearing.
Zimmerman, 28, is charged with second-degree murder in the Feb. 26 shooting of the 17-year-old Martin. He claims self-defense and has said Martin was the aggressor in their confrontation at a gated community where Martin was staying. Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch volunteer at the community, where he also lived.
The lack of an arrest for 44 days spurred protests nationwide in which participants chanted and held signs that said, "Arrest Zimmerman Now!" Anger over a delay in Zimmerman's arrest led to the Sanford police chief stepping down temporarily and the recusal of the prosecutor who normally handles cases out of Sanford.
Earlier, Zimmerman's parents and wife testified by phone in the hearing at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, saying he is not a flight risk nor a threat to the community. Zimmerman's family members were testifying by phone because they say they have been threatened.
"He is absolutely not a violent person," his wife, Shellie Zimmerman, testified.
Zimmerman's father, Robert Zimmerman Sr., said that even when confronted his son was likely to "turn the other cheek." The father also described what he said were his son's injuries Feb. 27, the morning after Martin was shot and killed.
"His face was swollen quite a bit. He had a protective cover over his nose. His lip was swollen and cut. And there were two vertical gashes on the back of his head," Robert Zimmerman testified.
Zimmerman's mother, Gladys, said her son was "very protective" of vulnerable people such as the homeless and children. She described how he got involved in a mentoring program for children in Orlando, noting that both of the children he mentored were African-American like Martin.
Gladys Zimmerman said she was concerned about her son's safety in that program because he traveled twice a month to a dangerous neighborhood.
"He said, 'Mom, if I don't go, they don't have nobody,'" Gladys Zimmerman said.
Prosecutor Bernardo de la Rionda asked the family members about two incidents. In 2005, George Zimmerman had to take anger management courses after an undercover law enforcement officer accused him of attacking him as he tried to arrest Zimmerman's friend. In another incident, a girlfriend accused Zimmerman of attacking her. No charges were filed.
The hearing provided a few glimpses into the evidence amassed by investigators, and in some cases evidence they do not have.
Dale Gilbreath, an investigator for the state attorney's office, testified that he does not know whether Martin or Zimmerman threw the first punch and that there is no evidence to disprove Zimmerman's contention that he was walking back to his vehicle when confronted by Martin.
Gilbreath also said evidence does not back up parts of Zimmerman's story, such as his claim that Martin was slamming his head against a sidewalk just before he pulled out his handgun and shot the teenager.
"That is not consistent with the evidence we found," said Gilbreath, who did not provide details.
Zimmerman asked to meet with Trayvon Martin's parents before the hearing, but the family's lawyers said this was not the time.
"We believe (the) Zimmerman request is very self-serving, considering the timing of it 50 days later, right before his bond hearing," said Justin R. Campbell — an assistant to attorney Benjamin Crump — in an email Thursday.
Legal experts had earlier predicted Zimmerman would likely be granted bail. Key factors include his ties to the local community and that he doesn't appear to be a flight risk since he turned himself in voluntarily after he was charged last week. He also has never been convicted of a serious crime, which would indicate he doesn't pose a threat to society.
"Although it's not routine for people charged with murder to get bond, they do get bond, and I think there is an excellent argument to be made in his specific case for him to be released on bond," said defense attorney Randy McClean, who practices in Seminole County, about 15 miles northeast of Orlando.
Kim Cannaday, a spokeswoman for the Seminole County Sheriff's Office, said she couldn't comment on what security procedures would be in place for Zimmerman if he is released. The sheriff's office does have the ability to monitor defendants outside the county if a judge requests a GPS monitor be used as a condition of release.
Anderson reported from Miami.