Trayvon Martin killer pleads not guilty

2012-04-24 10:02

Miami - The Florida neighbourhood watch volunteer charged with second-degree murder over the high-profile shooting of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin entered a plea of not guilty on Monday.

"The defendant, by and through his undersigned attorney, enters a written plea of not guilty to the charges now pending against him," read a court document waiving George Zimmerman's right to appear at his 8 May arraignment.

The plea came hours after Zimmerman was released from jail on a $150 000 bond, pending trial, and driven to an undisclosed location after his lawyer requested that his whereabouts be kept private by the court.

Television pictures showed the 28-year-old, wearing jeans and a bulky brown jacket that appeared to conceal a bullet-proof vest, leaving a jail in Sanford, Florida shortly after midnight and stepping into a white car.

His release followed a dramatic court hearing on Friday in which he unexpectedly took the stand and apologised directly to the victim's parents, who dismissed it afterwards through a lawyer as insincere and "self-serving".

Prosecutors say 17-year-old Martin was simply "minding his own business" when he was accosted and shot dead by Zimmerman in late February after buying some candy and a bottle of iced tea from a local store in Sanford.

Racial profiling

Zimmerman maintains he was acting in self-defence as Martin assaulted him.

Martin's family and supporters allege he was a victim of racial profiling, and the case sparked angry demonstrations in black communities across the country when police initially decided not to press charges.

Sanford city commissioners voted on Monday to reject police chief Bill Lee's offer of resignation, meaning he will remain on administrative leave for the next three or four months, until an external investigation is completed.

Zimmerman, who surrendered his passport and is wearing electronic monitoring tags, is believed to have gone into hiding outside central Florida after receiving death threats over the killing of Martin on 26 February.

Martin's family said it respected the judicial process but were "devastated by him being able to walk the streets", attorney Daryl Parks told CNN.

"It's with a very, very heavy heart that they've seen him walk freely late last night back into the public," Parks said.

Sorry for loss

Zimmerman admits tracking Martin through a gated Sanford community after viewing him as suspicious, but insists he shot purely in self-defence after being assaulted.

Police initially declined to arrest him, citing Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law that allows deadly shooting if in self defence.

Zimmerman apologised to Martin's parents at Friday's hearing, telling them in his first public comments since the shooting: "I'm sorry for the loss of your son."

But the family expressed anger after the proceedings, both at the apology and at the judge's decision to allow Zimmerman to be released pending trial.

Prosecutor Bernie De La Rionda had urged the judge to deny bail or at least put it at $1m.

Judge Kenneth Lester ultimately set bail at $150 000 but imposed conditions including electronic GPS tracking, a dusk-to-dawn curfew and a requirement for him to report every three days to the authorities.

No direct evidence

Zimmerman had to post 10% of the bail amount, or $15 000, to make bail.

Dale Gilbreath, an investigator in the case, acknowledged at Friday's hearing that there was no direct evidence to say who threw the first blow in the confrontation, other than the fact Zimmerman had been following Martin.

If convicted, Zimmerman could face life in prison.