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Zimmerman makes court appearance in Florida shooting

By Greg Bluestein and Tamara Lush

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 11:17 a.m. HST, Apr 12, 2012


SANFORD, Fla. >> Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman made his first court appearance Thursday on a second-degree murder charge in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, as a court document provided new details on the prosecution's case.

During the brief appearance, Zimmerman stood up straight, looked straight ahead and wore a gray prison jumpsuit. He spoke only to answer "Yes, sir," twice after he was asked basic questions about the charge against him and his attorney.

His hair was shaved down to stubble and he had a thin goatee, which appeared consistent with his booking photo from the day before. He had resurfaced Wednesday to turn himself in after weeks in hiding.

Judge Mark E. Herr said he found probable cause to move ahead with the case and that an arraignment would be held on May 29 before another judge.

The affidavit of probable cause prepared by prosecutors shed some light on why they chose to charge Zimmerman. The Orlando Sentinel said it had obtained a copy before it was expected to be filed with the courthouse.

The newspaper says that Martin's mother identified screams heard in the background of a 911 call as her son's. There had been some question as to whether Martin or Zimmerman was the one calling for help.

Prosecutors also interviewed a friend of Martin's who was talking to him just before the shooting. The affidavit says Martin told the witness he was being followed and was scared.

Martin tried to run home, the affidavit says, but was followed by Zimmerman: "Zimmerman got out of his vehicle and followed Martin."

The affidavit says that "Zimmerman disregarded the police dispatcher" who told him to stop, and "continued to follow Martin who was trying to return to his home."

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, attorney Mark O'Mara said he was concerned that the case up to now has been handled in the public eye, with details coming out in piecemeal fashion.

"It's really supposed to happen in the courtroom," O'Mara said, deflecting questions about evidence in the case and his client's mental state.

Earlier Thursday on NBC's "Today" show, O'Mara said Zimmerman is stressed and very tired and hoping to get bail.

Meanwhile, Martin's mother raised eyebrows with her own comments on "Today" about the accidental nature of the case, but she clarified what she meant in another interview later in the day. Sybrina Fulton told The Associated Press that she was referring to the chance encounter between Zimmerman and her son.

"Their meeting was the accident," Fulton said. "That was the accident. Not the actual act of him shooting him. That was murder ... They were never supposed to meet."

Zimmerman was charged after a public campaign to make an arrest in the Feb. 26 shooting, which has galvanized the nation for weeks. Some legal experts had expected Zimmerman to face a lesser count of manslaughter and say a prosecutor will face steep hurdles to win a murder conviction.

The prosecutor and her team will have to prove that the 28-year-old Zimmerman intentionally went after Martin instead of shooting him in self-defense, to refute arguments that a Florida law empowered him to use deadly force.

Legal experts said Corey chose a tough route with the murder charge, which could send Zimmerman to prison for life if he's convicted, over manslaughter, which usually carries 15-year prison terms and covers reckless or negligent killings.

The prosecutors must prove Zimmerman's shooting of Martin was rooted in hatred or ill will and counter his claims that he shot Martin to protect himself while patrolling his gated community in the Orlando suburb of Sanford. Zimmerman's lawyers would only have to prove by a preponderance of evidence — a relatively low legal standard — that he acted in self-defense at a pretrial hearing to prevent the case from going to trial.

There's a "high likelihood it could be dismissed by the judge even before the jury gets to hear the case," Florida defense attorney Richard Hornsby said.

Corey announced the charges Wednesday after an extraordinary 45-day campaign for Zimmerman's arrest, led by Martin's parents and civil rights activists, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Protesters wore hooded sweatshirts like the one Martin had on the night of the shooting. The debate reached all the way to the White House, where President Barack Obama observed last month: "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

Corey would not discuss how she reconciled conflicting accounts of the shooting by Zimmerman, witnesses and phone recordings that indicated Martin thought Zimmerman was following him.

"We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition. We prosecute based on the facts on any given case as well as the laws of the state of Florida," Corey said Wednesday. She was also present at Thursday's hearing.

Martin's parents expressed relief over the decision to prosecute the person who shot their son.

"The question I would really like to ask him is, if he could look into Trayvon's eyes and see how innocent he was, would he have then pulled the trigger? Or would he have just let him go on home?" said his father, Tracy Martin.

Many attorneys said they had expected the prosecutor to opt for the lesser charge of manslaughter. The most severe homicide charge, first-degree murder, is subject to the death penalty in Florida and requires premeditation — something all sides agreed was not present in this case.

"I predicted manslaughter, so I'm a little surprised," said Michael Seigel, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at the University of Florida. "But she has more facts than I do."

O'Mara, Zimmerman's attorney, said his client would plead not guilty and invoke Florida's so-called "stand your ground" law, which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight.

The confrontation took place in a gated community where Martin was staying with his father and his father's fiancée. Martin was walking back in the rain from a convenience store when Zimmerman spotted him and called 911. He followed the teenager despite being told not to by a police dispatcher and the two got into a struggle.

Zimmerman told police Martin punched him in the nose, knocking him down, and then began banging the volunteer's head on the sidewalk. Zimmerman said he shot Martin in fear for his life. Sanford police took Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, into custody the night of the shooting but released him without charging him.

___

Bluestein reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers Suzanne Gamboa in Washington, Gary Fineout in Jacksonville, Fla.; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Fla.; Curt Anderson in Miami, Kyle Hightower in Sanford, Fla.; and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Fla.; also contributed to this article.







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808comp wrote:
This guy would have been better off if the police had arrested him. He wouldn't have to be hiding out in fear.
on April 11,2012 | 10:01AM
Oahuan wrote:
I believe this is the reason why he called the special prosecutor's office. I think arrangements were made so that he would be in custody away from the public. Let the jury decide.
on April 11,2012 | 11:17AM
loquaciousone wrote:
It's a good thing Ozzie Guillen is coaching the Florida Marlins othewise this guy would be the most hated guy in the State.
on April 11,2012 | 10:40AM
kainalu wrote:
"Stand your ground", people. It's the law that could come into play here. Unless there's a reliable witness to dispute Zimmerman's claim of "self defense" directly, the prosecution has a hard road ahead in my opinion. For those of us that believe Zimmerman gunned down the boy, don't hold your breath. It's Florida. I give you Casey Anthony.
on April 11,2012 | 10:49AM
kapoleitalkstory wrote:
He already said tha the followed Trayvon! It is STAND your ground not chase after someoone that is just walking down the street. What if Trayvon felt threatened? We will never know since he was gunned down by a trigger happy Neighborhood Watch! I am glad the only thing that our Neighborhood Watch carry are flash lights and cell phones!
on April 11,2012 | 11:25AM
silvangold wrote:
D*I*T*T*O !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
on April 11,2012 | 12:28PM
Pacej001 wrote:
Why do you (and the person below) believe what you believe about this story given the numerous corrections, flat out falsifications, and walk-backs by the press/media?
on April 11,2012 | 02:02PM
hawaiikone wrote:
Simply because both of them are willing to judge long before the facts are in.
on April 12,2012 | 06:48AM
Toneyuki wrote:
The reason we have a right to keep and bare arms is to defend ourselves. When seconds count the police are only minutes away.
on April 11,2012 | 10:51AM
kainalu wrote:
Actually, the "right to bear arms" was formulated during our country's infancy for the purpose of allowing hillside farmers to quickly muster in defense of our newly found Nation, and to show up to the fight armed with something more than a pitchfork, more commonly remembered as "the minuteman". Defend ourselves, yes. From an invading army. I doubt when our fore-fathers formulated the Amendment they intended it to allow Joe Six-pack to mount a 50-caliber machine gun in the back of his pick-up and drive down mainstreet, or Soccer Mom-Melanie to show up at a kids' event packing a loaded 9mm glock.
on April 11,2012 | 11:48AM
hawaiikone wrote:
Actually, the right to bear arms also includes protecting oneself from oppressive government. I'm confident our fore-fathers had that in mind as well.
on April 11,2012 | 01:29PM
Pacej001 wrote:
Kainalu must have missed the recent string of court decisions.
on April 11,2012 | 02:04PM
honopic wrote:
"Bare" arms? Why? To show off your tats?
on April 11,2012 | 03:32PM
Oahuan wrote:
The only people having problems with the "Stand Your Ground" law are the people who breaks the law. They want the freedom to still rob others without the fear of being shot or having their family members being shot.
on April 11,2012 | 11:20AM
kainalu wrote:
I consider myself a law-abiding citizen. My problem with "stand your ground" is when two people are alone - say you and I. I gun you down simply because I can, go ahead and give myself a bloody nose, then claim self-defense. Case closed.
on April 11,2012 | 11:43AM
kapoleitalkstory wrote:
You don't even need the bloody nose you just have to feel threatened - this law is SOOO dangerous!
on April 11,2012 | 11:46AM
serious wrote:
Look, our whole legal system is flawed with he said she said. Was it consentual or not, as an example!!! They have to prove within a reasonable doubt! I would hate to be on that jury!!! Let Holder, Al, Jesse, Oprah and the Almighty be on the jury so Zimmerman can have an unbiased opinion!! They already lynched him in the media. Is this a great country or not???.
on April 11,2012 | 12:42PM
hawaiikone wrote:
I think we need to keep in mind that if I also had a gun you might hesitate before shooting me. Maybe both of us would be more inclined to work out our problem rather than risk being shot. In a state like this, where the law abiding citizen cannot carry, and many bad guys do, it kind of gives them an advantage. Of course there's a lot of problems with everyone being armed, but having a lot of capable, armed and honest citizens around may give the violent criminal some second thoughts, as they would have no idea of who's got what. With just that simple knowledge maybe everyone would be a little more considerate to everyone else, and not so quick to anger.
on April 11,2012 | 03:34PM
squidman22 wrote:
Trayvon didn't deserve death. Zimm is not a police officer. Zimm was not justified in pursuing or apprehending. A neighborhood watchperson should observe, record, and notifiy only. Zimm caused the situation that he insists he was defending himself from. Someone didn't have to die.
on April 11,2012 | 11:56AM
squidman22 wrote:
One other think I wanted to add is that we take death so casually now. Like its no big deal or its okay if it was a mistake. Our society doesn't value life as much and is so indifferent to death. A young man died! I don't care if he had problems in school or at home. How many of you can relate and had personal problems when you were young? Did you deserve to die? We need to really look at ourselves and really ask if a young boy had to die because of this. Was it truly an accident or something precipitated by someones bad decision?
on April 11,2012 | 12:02PM
silvangold wrote:
AMEN.
on April 11,2012 | 12:31PM
Graham wrote:
Why no DOJ investigation into the Bounties on Zimmerman or any media outrage? Can you imagine if, the KKK put a bounty on a African-American.
on April 11,2012 | 12:09PM
Ronin006 wrote:
My guess is that Zimmerman will be found not guilty, riots will erupt across the country, stores will be looted, and dozens of people will be killed in the name of justice for Trayvon Martin. It will be nothing like when OJ Simpson was found not guilty for killing two white people and blacks across the nation turned out by the thousands to cheer the verdict.
on April 11,2012 | 12:17PM
hawaiikone wrote:
My guess is the opposite. There have been at least 3 voice recognition experts that are prepared to testify the yelling was from Martin rather than Zimmerman. That potential evidence alone probably is behind the charges. And rightfully so. To me, Florida is handling this situation as they should. Time and evidence will bring forth a guilty or innocent verdict, not talk show guests on FOX or MSNBC. Or Obama.
on April 11,2012 | 01:36PM
Classic_59Chevy wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on April 11,2012 | 12:28PM
Graham wrote:
Nope.
on April 11,2012 | 12:51PM
squidman22 wrote:
All incidents where there is a death should be investigated to the full extent of the law. The situation wasn't taken seriously by police and was basically going to be excused and dismissed. I think that's what people are more upset about.
on April 11,2012 | 01:14PM
hawaiikone wrote:
Why would you say that? We are all innocent until proven guilty, and the police were required to let him go until they could collect enough evidence to charge him. The stand your ground law allowed Zimmerman to claim that, and without immediate evidence to the contrary, the police were obligated to let him go. Now that enough evidence has come forth to dispute his claim, he's going to a grand jury.
on April 11,2012 | 02:03PM
EightOEight wrote:
The problem is, the Sanford PD had no intention of investigating further although it's lead homicide detective recommended charging Z with manslaughter. They considered the case closed until all the "fuss" started. And this isn't going to the grand jury...the special prosecutor has decided to charge directly and have Z arrested based on her review of the case.
on April 11,2012 | 02:35PM
hawaiikone wrote:
You're right about the grand jury. From what I've been able read the PD referred the case to the prosecutor for investigation, as they had no evidence to arrest, but never closed the case. Incompetent police work, yes, but always an ongoing investigation, regardless of media influence. Based on expert voice analysis, Zimmerman seems guilty at this point, but time and a jury will tell.
on April 11,2012 | 04:13PM
hawaiikone wrote:
Second degree murder is applicable when no premeditation exists, as in these charges.
on April 11,2012 | 01:38PM
EightOEight wrote:
Did you read the article? He was charged with second degree murder, which does not require proof of premeditation. And in answer to your questions, I would hope there's as much fuss in the event of any murder, regardless of the race of the parties involved. Not everyone is a jaded bigot...
on April 11,2012 | 01:40PM
serious wrote:
Tell that to your President--it's his son isn't it? BTW, did you see where Taylor is over 6' tall, that angel picture of him is quite outdated!!! I hope they show his criminal record!!
on April 11,2012 | 03:26PM
EightOEight wrote:
Give it a rest, Serious...your anti-Onama tirades are becoming tiresome.
on April 11,2012 | 03:44PM
Anonymous wrote:
JESUS CHRIST...WHAT TOOK 'EM SO LONG TO FILE THE CHARGES ?????
on April 11,2012 | 04:30PM
Ronin006 wrote:
The news media needs to stop using the photo of an innocent-looking baby-face Trayvon Martin that was taken five or six years ago and use a current photo of the 6 foot 3 inch Martin who had less than sterling record with the authorities and at school.
on April 12,2012 | 08:34AM
puuwai wrote:
The most likely scenario is that Zimmerman (who has a history of paranoia) saw Martin, thought he was suspicious and started following him. Martin probably felt threatened and scared because this strange guy was following him. When Zimmerman left his car and approached him, Martin probably took a swing at him out of self defense and when Zimmerman started losing the fight, he shot and killed Martin. A reason this story is so controversial is that you can't really blame Martin for feeling threatened and while taking a swing at Zimmerman is not appropriate, it's understandable. At the same time, if the scenario played out the way I described it, Zimmerman is also innocent of all charges under Florida's Stand Your Ground law despite being the initial aggressor. In other words, even if your actions provoked a fight, if you start losing that fight and feel like your life is threatened, you can shoot your attacker. It's distasteful, but legal.
on April 12,2012 | 10:25AM
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