By The Associated Press
MIAMI (AP) — In a low-key event, George Zimmerman was released from a Florida jail in the middle of the night on $150,000 bail as he awaits his second-degree murder trial in the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin.
The neighborhood watch volunteer was wearing a brown jacket and blue jeans and carrying a paper bag as he walked out of the Seminole County jail around midnight Sunday. He was following another man and didn’t look at photographers gathered outside. The two then got into a white BMW and drove away.
Zimmerman did not speak as he left the suburban Orlando jail.
His ultimate destination is being kept secret for his safety. He could leave Florida.
Martin’s parents have a “heavy heart” now that Zimmerman has been released from jail, said Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the 17-year-old’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton.
“They hope his freedom is temporary because the pain he has caused this family is permanent,” Crump said Monday.
As with the July 2011 release of Casey Anthony, the Florida woman acquitted of murder in the death of her young daughter, Zimmerman was released around midnight. But the similarities end there.
Anthony was quickly whisked away by deputy sheriffs armed with rifles as angry protesters jeered her. While news helicopters briefly tracked her SUV through Orlando before she slipped from public view, there was no such pursuit of Zimmerman, who will have to return for trial.
Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester said at a hearing Friday that Zimmerman cannot have any guns and must observe a 7 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew. Zimmerman also surrendered his passport.
Zimmerman had to put up 10 percent, or $15,000, to make bail. His father had indicated he might take out a second mortgage.
Zimmerman worked at a mortgage risk-management company at the time of the shooting, and his wife is in nursing school. A website was set up to collect donations for Zimmerman’s defense. It is unclear how much has been raised.
Bail is not unheard of in second-degree murder cases, and legal experts had predicted it would be granted for Zimmerman because of his ties to the community, because he turned himself in after he was charged last week, and because he has never been convicted of a serious crime.
Prosecutors had asked for $1 million bail, citing two previous scrapes Zimmerman had with the law, neither of which resulted in charges. In 2005, he had to take anger management courses after he was accused of attacking an undercover officer who was trying to arrest Zimmerman’s friend. In another incident, a girlfriend accused him of attacking her.
Speaking Monday on “CBS This Morning,” Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, said Zimmerman would not have apologized to the Martin family during Friday’s bond hearing if O’Mara had known the family felt it was the wrong time.
Zimmerman told the family he was sorry for the loss of their son, an apology spurned by an attorney for Martin’s family.
O’Mara said Monday the apology wouldn’t have happened if he’d known the family felt the timing was wrong. O’Mara said Zimmerman simply wanted to reach out to the family.
Zimmerman, 28, fatally shot Martin Feb. 26 inside the gated community where Zimmerman lived. Martin was unarmed and was walking back to the home of his father’s fiancée when Zimmerman saw him, called 911 and began following him. A fight broke out – investigators say it is unknown who started it.
Zimmerman says Martin, who was visiting from Miami, attacked him. Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense, citing Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which gives broad legal protection to anyone who says they used deadly force because they feared death or great bodily harm.
Zimmerman was not charged for more than six weeks, sparking national protests led by Martin’s parents, civil rights groups, and the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Martin was black; Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is from Peru.
Residents in Sanford hadn’t been expecting a ruckus once Zimmerman was released.
City commissioners said they hadn’t received calls from nervous residents. Protesters didn’t show up outside the jail. And talk at one local coffee shop seldom focused on the case.
“It’s just kind of a non-issue now,” said Michele Church, a server at Mel’s Family Diner. “That’s pretty much all anybody in Sanford wanted, was an arrest, so it could be sorted out in the court system.”
Zimmerman was fitted with an electronic device when he was released Sunday, according to a statement from the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office. That would allow law enforcement to monitor him if he leaves the state.
Defense attorneys for other high-profile clients who awaited trial on bail have said Zimmerman should leave Florida and refrain from going out in public.
About a half-dozen photographers and cameramen camped outside the Sanford jail Sunday, focused on the door marked “Bonds Rooms,” where other people who had been arrested and released on bail exited.
Sanford Commissioner Patty Mahany, whose district includes the neighborhood where Martin was killed, said Sunday that things had calmed down.
“I think now that people are able to see the justice system taking place, even though they understand it’s going to be quite slow, people are willing to just remain calm and really we’re all getting back to our daily routines,” Mahany said.
Meanwhile, Martin’s parents published a “Card of Thanks” in The Miami Herald obituary page Sunday. The note says Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin express their appreciation for all the public’s support since their son’s death. The notice includes a photograph of Trayvon Martin dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, similar to one he was wearing the evening he was killed.
“Words will never express how your love, support and prayers lifted our spirits and continue to give us the strength to march on,” the letter says.