SANFORD, Fla. - The family of a neighborhood watch volunteer charged with killing Trayvon Martin asked a Florida judge Friday to let him out of jail while he awaits trial, and legal experts said he stands a good chance of being granted bail.
George Zimmerman's family testified by phone in the hearing at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, saying he is not a flight risk nor a threat to the community. Zimmerman's family members were testifying by phone because they say they have been threatened.
Zimmerman was at the hearing wearing a suit but in shackles. Martin's parents are also present.
"He is absolutely not a violent person," his wife, Shellie Zimmerman, testified.
But assistant prosecutor Bernardo de la Rionda asked her about two incidents. In 2005, George Zimmerman had to take anger management courses after an undercover law enforcement officer accused him of attacking him as he tried to arrest Zimmerman's friend. In another incident, a girlfriend accused Zimmerman of attacking her. No charges were filed.
Legal experts say factors that favor Zimmerman getting bail include his ties to the local community and that he doesn't appear to be a flight risk since he turned himself in voluntarily after second-degree murder charges were filed against him last week. He also has never been convicted of a crime, which would indicate he doesn't pose a threat to society.
"Although it's not routine for people charged with murder to get bond, they do get bond, and I think there is an excellent argument to be made in his specific case for him to be released on bond," said defense attorney Randy McClean, who practices in Seminole County, about 15 miles northeast of Orlando.
Defense attorney Mark O'Mara indicated before the hearing he would ask that Zimmerman be allowed to leave the area, if he is granted bond, because of concerns about his safety. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester was assigned the case Wednesday after a previous judge recused herself because of a potential conflict of interest.
"Normally, the conditions are that you stay local. I think that is going to be difficult," O'Mara said in an interview. "I think nobody would deny the fact that if George Zimmerman were walking down the street today, he would be at risk. That is a reality."
O'Mara has said he would prefer that Zimmerman be released so he can assist in building a defense case.
The judge would have discretion to allow Zimmerman to live elsewhere along with a number of restrictions such as a curfew, regular reporting requirements and possibly an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet, said Florida International University law professor Joelle Moreno.
O'Mara said he would ask for assistance from law enforcement. Kim Cannaday, a spokeswoman for the Seminole County Sheriff's Office, said she couldn't comment on what security procedures would be in place for Zimmerman if he is released. The sheriff's office does have the ability to monitor defendants outside the county if a judge requests a GPS monitor be used as a condition of release.
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the 17-year-old Martin's death during a Feb. 26 confrontation in a Sanford, Fla., gated community. Martin was walking home from a convenience store when Zimmerman spotted him from his truck and called police to report him as suspicious. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense under Florida's "stand your ground" law, which eliminates a person's duty to retreat under threat of death or serious injury.
The lack of an arrest for 44 days spurred protests nationwide, several in Seminole County, in which participants chanted and held signs that said, "Arrest Zimmerman Now!" Anger over a delay in Zimmerman's arrest led to the Sanford police chief stepping down temporarily and the recusal of the prosecutor who normally handles cases out of Sanford.
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