George Zimmerman made his first courtroom appearance on Thursday after weeks in hiding following the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
As the murder case commenced, Prosecutors outlined their main evidence in court papers, saying the neighborhood watch volunteer followed and confronted the black teenager after a police dispatcher told him to back off.
The brief outline, contained in an affidavit filed in support of the second-degree murder charges, appeared to contradict Zimmerman’s claim that Martin attacked him after he had turned away and was returning to his vehicle.
In the affidavit, prosecutors also said that Martin’s mother identified cries for help 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 crying out.
The account of the shooting was released as Zimmerman, 28, appeared at a four-minute hearing in a jailhouse courtroom, setting in motion what could be a long, drawn-out process, or an abrupt and disappointingly short one for the Martin family because of the strong legal protections contained in Florida’s “stand your ground” law on self-defense.
During the hearing, Zimmerman stood up straight, held his head high and wore a gray jail jumpsuit. He spoke only to answer “Yes, sir” twice after he was asked basic questions from the judge, who was not in the courtroom but on closed-circuit TV.
The defendant’s hands were shackled in front of him. He did not enter a plea; that will happen at his arraignment, set for May 29.
The special prosecutor in the case, Angela Corey, has refused to explain how she arrived at the charge. But in the affidavit, prosecutors said Zimmerman spotted Martin while patrolling his gated community, got out of his vehicle and followed the teenager.
Prosecutors interviewed a friend of Martin’s who was talking to him over the phone moments before the shooting. His parents’ lawyer has said that Martin was talking to his girlfriend in Miami.
“During this time, Martin was on the phone with a friend and described to her what was happening,” the affidavit said. “The witness advised that Martin was scared because he was being followed through the complex by an unknown male and didn’t know why.”
At Thursday’s hearing, the case was assigned to Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler, a 39-year-old former assistant state attorney from Sanford who was elected to the bench in 2010. Zimmerman is being held without bail.
For all the relief among civil rights activists over the arrest, legal experts warned there is a real chance it could get thrown out before it ever goes to trial because of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which gives people a broad right to use deadly force without having to retreat from a fight.
At a pretrial hearing, Zimmerman’s lawyers would only have to prove by a preponderance of evidence – a relatively low legal standard – that he acted in self-defense in order to get a judge to toss out the second-murder charges.