Seminole County Judge Kenneth Lester on Friday allowed George Zimmerman to post a $150,000 bond to go free as he awaits trial on a second degree murder charge for his role in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26. The bond is expected to be posted in several days.
Normally routine, the hearing turned into a mini-trial when defense attorney Mark O’Mara challenged prosecutors' probable-cause affidavit – the document in which prosecutors made their case for arresting Mr. Zimmerman. One of the lead investigators and even Zimmerman himself took the stand. Here are five things we learned.
1. Zimmerman brooded over comments by Trayvon's mother
No turn in the hearing was more unusual than when Zimmerman took the stand himself to make his first public statement on the case, giving the first glimpse into his frame of mind.
Mr. O’Mara conceded that allowing Zimmerman to take the stand at the bond hearing “was very risky,” but said Zimmerman wanted specifically to address several questions raised by Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon's mom, in an interview last week, where she asked why he shot an unarmed teenager.
Zimmerman said he thought Trayvon was an adult, "a little bit younger than I am," and that he didn’t know if Trayvon was armed or not. Zimmerman ended by saying, “I’m sorry for the loss of your son.”
O’Mara noted that Zimmerman “didn’t want to defend himself, didn’t want to talk about the facts, but he had heard a request from the family, and that’s precisely what he wanted to address.”
After the hearing, an attorney for Trayvon's family called the apology "disingenuous."
2. The extent of Zimmerman's injuries
At the hearing, O’Mara attacked the affidavit in an effort to raise doubts about Zimmerman's guilt and persuade the judge to establish a reasonable bond. He called attention to claims in the affidavit that Zimmerman “profiled” and “confronted” Martin – assertions that O’Mara said lacked hard evidence.
For one, O’Mara said that Zimmerman sustained several lacerations and a broken nose – undermining the affidavit and suggesting that Zimmerman was telling the truth when he said he feared for his life.
Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman, testified via telephone, describing his son's injuries the day after the shooting: “Well, 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.”
In an attempt to further attack the claims made in the affidavit, O'Mara called to the stand Dale Gilbreath, one of the lead investigators. Mr. Gilbreath acknowledged that there was no evidence to indicate who started a fight that happened after Zimmerman got out of his car and, at one point, ran after Trayvon.
"Do you know who started the fight?" O’Mara asked him.
"Do I know? No," said Gilbreath, who added that he had not come to the hearing prepared to testify.
"Do you have any evidence that supports who may have started the fight?"
“The evidence that I found out, I found out in the courtroom today,” O’Mara said to reporters after the hearing. “I made the decision to review the probable cause affidavit to fill in gaps that we knew existed and expand it to include things like injuries, where those injuries now seem not open for contest. So that may lead us down a certain path. There are a lot of questions about this case, not just of guilt, but what really happened.”
Prosecutors say they have evidence, including eyewitness accounts, that suggest Zimmerman chased Trayvon, who at one point turned around and attacked Zimmerman in self-defense 70 yards from the back door of the house where he was staying with his dad, and where he was returning after buying a bag of Skittles and an iced tea at a convenience store.
“The facts are that here’s a 17-year-old young man who was minding his own business and was walking home when confronted by the defendant, who felt that Mr. Martin was committing some type of crime. Unfortunately, he made the wrong assumption, that’s why the word 'profile' was used, and he 'confronted' Martin,” said Bernie De La Rionda, the state prosecutor, in a closing argument where he suggested the judge set a $1 million bond.
3. ‘Inconsistencies’ in Zimmerman’s story raised police suspicions
Testimony at the hearing suggested that Sanford police – who released Zimmerman without charges before a special prosecutor filed charges against him last week – didn’t fully believe Zimmerman's story, noting” inconsistencies” in his account of how he was attacked by Trayvon.
When Zimmerman was on the stand, Mr. De La Rionda asked him about whether, when police asked him about inconsistencies in his story, he began to say that he didn’t remember exactly what happened. The judge cut off that line of questioning, saying it veered into evidence that should be introduced at trial.
But during his turn on the stand, Gilbreath drew attention to Zimmerman's assertion to police that Trayvon was at one point running around Zimmerman's car. Gilbreath questioned why that should make Zimmerman fear for his life. “[Zimmerman] was so scared that he still got out of the car and chased Mr. Martin,” Gilbreath said skeptically.
Under questioning from O’Mara, Gilbreath also described new details that Zimmerman told police, including the claim that Trayvon allegedly tried to suffocate Zimmerman and grab for his gun before Zimmerman “scooted away” and shot Trayvon at close range.
4. Trial strategies take shape
From the details revealed, it appears that the prosecution will try to keep its narrative simple: An unarmed teen returning from a snack run gunned down by a jumpy neighborhood-watch captain.
Mr. De La Rionda asked Gilbreath: “If Mr. Martin was minding his own business and coming home and someone starts accusing him of a crime, would you consider that a confrontation?”
“Yes,” Gilbreath responded.
The defense's tack in the hearing, meanwhile, pointed toward an attempt to press the prosecution for actual hard evidence. In his attack on the probable cause affidavit and questions to Gilbreath, O'Mara suggested that the most relevant evidence so far comes from Zimmerman himself and his injuries, which indicate that, no matter how the fight began, he was justified in defending himself.
5. Amid threats, judge allows unusual bond stipulations
In his decision to allow a $150,000 bond, Judge Lester quickly set aside as "run of the mill" Zimmerman’s two previous brushes with the law – an assault arrest and an injunction over an allegation of domestic violence – and said the case at hand was his main focus.
Because of various threats made against Zimmerman, the judge said he would allow Zimmerman to move to another state for the time being, if it can be arranged, given that he wear a GPS locator and check back in with Florida authorities every three days.
“I’m concerned [for his safety], I just am,” O’Mara said. “There’s been an upswelling in this case because of the way it was handled initially, and that seems to be focused on George. Now that we see the evidence, maybe that frustration will be refocused away from George. We’ll see. I would hope so.”
This article, "," first appeared on CSMonitor.com.