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Shooter of black Florida teen Trayvon Martin may appear in court
SANFORD, Florida |
SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - George Zimmerman will make his first public appearance since the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin more than six weeks ago when he appears in a Florida courtroom on Thursday to face charges of second-degree murder.
Zimmerman will appear in person at a 1:30 p.m. EDT hearing in a courtroom at the John E. Polk Correctional Facility in Sanford, officials said, marking the beginning of a judicial process to determine whether the killing of Martin in a quiet gated community constitutes murder.
His lawyer is hoping to secure the crime watch volunteer's release from jail, where he has been held in protective custody since being taken into custody Wednesday on the murder charge.
Judge Mark Herr will preside over the hearing, but may appear by way of video teleconference, officials said.
Although media will not be permitted inside the courtroom -- filming can take place from a glass-walled viewing area -- more than a dozen satellite TV trucks were parked outside the jail facility on Thursday to cover the latest development in a case that has riveted the public.
Mark O'Mara, the Orlando criminal defense attorney Zimmerman hired Wednesday afternoon after his first defense team dropped him as a client the previous day, said it was not immediately clear whether bail would be discussed during Zimmerman's initial appearance before a judge.
"I'm hoping the court will consider a bond motion," O'Mara said on CBS' "This Morning" show. "It may or may not. If not we'll have a bond motion shortly thereafter. I hope to get him out. I need him out for my purposes to help me in preparing his defense."
The killing of Martin, 17, has set off a firestorm of debate about race relations and self-defense laws, punctuated by a series of demonstrations across the country. Even President Barack Obama commented on the case, saying, "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon."
Martin's mother, who was instrumental in bringing the case to the public's attention, said she hopes Zimmerman is remorseful and she believes the shooting was not intentional.
"One of the things that I still believe in (is) a person should apologize when they are actually remorseful for what they've done," Sybrina Fulton, his mother, said on the "Today Show" on NBC. "I believe it was an accident, I believe that it just got out of control and he couldn't turn the clock back."
Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will revoke Zimmerman's permit to carry a concealed weapon, it said on Thursday. Department spokesman Sterling Ivey said the revocation occurs once the agency is notified by law enforcement of a felony arrest or conviction.
If Zimmerman, 28, who is white and Hispanic, were released, it is unclear where he would stay. He has been subjected to death threats and was in hiding from the public for weeks.
But O'Mara said he hoped the fact of Zimmerman's arrest - the central demand of Martin's parents and others across the country for more than a month - would help to diffuse the emotional intensity.
"I'm concerned about his safety to a certain extent, but I'm truly hoping that there'll be a receding of the frustrations or anger now that the process is moving forward," O'Mara said on CNN's "Starting Point."
At a later date when he is arraigned, Zimmerman will plead not guilty, O'Mara has said. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison.
Zimmerman's relatives and supporters have insisted he is not a racist and say he has been unfairly vilified. They said he feared for his life during his altercation with Martin and was justified in using deadly force.
Special prosecutor Angela Corey brought the charge against Zimmerman 45 days after the fatal shooting, having taken over the case from local authorities who declined to arrest Zimmerman based on his account of self-defense.
That previous decision cast a spotlight on Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which allows people to use deadly force when they believe they are in danger of being killed or suffering great bodily harm.
"Let me emphasize that we do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition," Corey said. "We prosecute based on the facts of any given case as well as the laws of the state of Florida."
Zimmerman spent Wednesday night in protective custody at the jail after turning himself in earlier in the day. He arrived, escorted by officers from a black SUV, with a jacket draped over his head.
O'Mara said on CNN he spent about an hour with his client at the jail Wednesday in their first face-to-face meeting.
(Writing by Dan Burns and Paul Thomasch; Editing by Vicki Allen)
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