Zimmerman Makes First Court Appearance In Fla.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. After weeks out of the public eye - much of it spent in hiding - George Zimmerman had his first court appearance today in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman is the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Trayvon Martin. His hearing only lasted several minutes. Zimmerman was informed of the second-degree murder charge and sent back to his cell at the Seminole County Jail. NPR's Greg Allen has more from Sanford.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: George Zimmerman was brought by sheriff's deputies into the courtroom in a gray jail jumpsuit, with his hands shackled. He appeared thinner than in the photos that for weeks have peered from TV screens and the front pages of newspapers. Also today, Zimmerman wasn't smiling. Judge Mark Herr presided over the short hearing from another location through a closed-circuit TV connection.
(SOUNDBITE OF BROADCAST)
JUDGE MARK HERR: Mr. Zimmerman...
GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: Yes, sir.
HERR: ...you're appearing here for your first appearances - or first appearance at this time for a charge of murder in the second degree, and you are represented by Mr. O'Mara, is that true?
ZIMMERMAN: Yes sir.
ALLEN: The judge said Zimmerman would be formally arraigned in Sanford on May 29th. Zimmerman's lawyer, Mark O'Mara, had just one request of the court: that all records be sealed to guard the privacy of witnesses in the case. State attorney Angela Corey was there, along with Deputy Bernie de la Rionda who told the court he agreed with the suggestion. Outside the courtroom, de la Rionda was asked about the tough second-degree murder charge brought against Zimmerman - a charge that carries a potential sentence of life in prison. Is it a tactic he was asked to encourage Zimmerman to plead guilty to lesser charges?
BERNIE DE LA RIONDA: Ma'am, we charged what we thought was appropriate, and that's what we're going to rely on. And we'll leave it at that. Again, we look forward to presenting this case in a courtroom of law. That's why we're all here. We appreciate that you're doing your job, but let us do our job.
ALLEN: Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, had said he planned to ask for a bail hearing today. Outside the courtroom though, he said after talking to Zimmerman, he decided that was premature. Waiting a few weeks, he said, might allow the media coverage and public interest surrounding the case to calm down. O'Mara has expressed concern about his client's safety if and when he's released on bond. At the Seminole County Jail, he's being held in isolation. For weeks, before he turned himself in to police, Zimmerman was in hiding. O'Mara was asked about his client's state of mind.
MARK O'MARA: Well, he's tired. You know, it's been a very long period of time for him. And he's gone through some tribulations of his own being, you know, the focus of the intensity of this event. He is, you know, he's facing second-degree murder charges now. He's frightened.
ALLEN: O'Mara said despite all the pretrial publicity, a change of venue for the case seems unlikely. There was another interesting development today. In an interview on NBC, Trayvon Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, had this to say about the incident in which Zimmerman killed her son.
(SOUNDBITE OF NBC BROADCAST)
SYBRINA FULTON: I believe it was an accident. I believe that it just got out of control. And he couldn't turn the clock back. I would ask him did he know that that was a minor, that that was a teenager and that he did not have a weapon.
ALLEN: In a statement released a few hours later, Fulton said her comments had been mischaracterized. In the statement, she said, quote, "In no way did I mean the shooting was an accident. We believe that George Zimmerman stalked my son and murdered him in cold blood." In Sanford, prosecutors said they had no comment on what Fulton said, but Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, did.
O'MARA: I look forward to having a conversation with her to see, you know, exactly what her feelings are on it. Obviously, it was a horrible intersection of two young men's lives, and it ended in tragedy. We have to figure out how it happened, why it happened and who might be responsible for it.
ALLEN: Those facts could be key in determining whether Zimmerman can make a case that he acted in self-defense and is immune from prosecution under Florida's Stand Your Ground law. Greg Allen, NPR news, Sanford, Florida.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.