Zimmerman, 28, shook his head and said “yes” when the judge asked him questions about the charge against him. Dressed in a gray, county jail jumpsuit and handcuffed, Zimmerman looked noticeably thinner and stood straight and expressionless during the brief hearing. His hair was shaved down to stubble and he had a thin goatee.
Judge Mark Herr said he found probable cause to move ahead with the case and set arraignment for May 29. Zimmerman does not have to appear in court for that hearing.
After the hearing, Zimmerman’s new lawyer, Mark O’Mara, told reporters that he hoped to have Zimmerman released on bond and “to have him a place to be safe” in the next couple of weeks.
“I think he’s in a good place,” O’Mara said of Zimmerman.
“Obviously it was a horrible interception of young mens’ lives. We have to figure out how it happened and why it happened,” he said.
Early Thursday morning dozens of media trucks and reporters sat outside the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center and nearby John E. Polk Correctional Facility where Zimmerman has been held since he turned himself in Wednesday.
Trayvon, 17, was shot and killed in Sanford while walking after dark to the home of a family friend. Zimmerman told police he shot the black teen in self-defense after calling authorities to report he was tracking a suspicious individual inside his gated community. On 911 tapes, a dispatcher can be heard telling Zimmerman that he didn’t need to follow the young man.
Trayvon was found unarmed with a fatal chest wound. He had been carrying a can of iced tea and a package of candy.
Zimmerman was charged after a public campaign to make an arrest in the Feb. 26 shooting, which has galvanized the nation for weeks.
On Thursday O’Mara said he did not pursue a motion for bond just hours before the hearing because “it just didn’t make sense with where the case is now and my client’s status,” he said.
He added that the decision was “an attempt to calm things down rather than demand a presentation of evidence that might increase the furor.”
He said he asked the court to seal records pertaining to the case because “my concern was that this matter was being handled in a piecemeal fashion” as information about the case leaked out.
O’Mara said he was not getting paid for his services because Zimmerman “doesn’t have any money.”
Zimmerman apparently has established a website to raise money for his legal bills. On therealgeorgezimmerman.com, he says: “As a result of the incident and subsequent media coverage, I have been forced to leave my home, my school, my employer, my family and ultimately, my entire life.”
O’Mara said Zimmerman is “tired. It’s been a very long period of time for him. He’s gone through some tribulations of his own. He is facing second-degree murder charges right now. He’s frightened.”
Some legal experts had expected Zimmerman to face a lesser count of manslaughter. Zimmerman could face life in prison if convicted.
The murder charge is likely to face intense scrutiny in the weeks ahead as it is weighed against Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which police cited the night of the shooting as the reason Zimmerman was never charged in the first place. The law gives Florida citizens the right to use deadly force if they feel threatened; Zimmerman contends that he was attacked by Trayvon and beaten.
When asked if he had handled any “stand your ground” cases, O’Mara said “self-defense cases, a number of them. It shows up in a lot of personal crimes. I have not had one to a jury since stand your ground was passed, but I have had a couple where it impacted the case.”
Florida State Attorney Angela Corey, who brought the charges, said Wednesday the “stand your ground” law provides an “affirmative defense” that, if raised by Zimmerman, will be considered by a Florida criminal court.
The killing has been elevated by social media and there have been rallies across the country filled with protesters donning hoodies like the one Trayvon was wearing the night he was killed. The U.S. Justice Department is conducting an investigation and even President Obama weighed in, offering: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
Downtown Sanford was quiet Thursday morning with few people walking along the city’s sidewalks. Most of the quaint businesses that include coffee shops, antique sellers and book stores had few people inside.
There were no signs of Wednesday night’s limited celebrations or rallies that came soon after Zimmerman was charged.