Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman has made his first court appearance on a second-degree murder charge in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
During the brief appearance Thursday, Zimmerman stood up straight and wore a gray prison jumpsuit. He spoke only to answer "Yes, sir," after he was asked basic questions about the charge against him and his attorney.
His hair was shaved down to stubble and he had a thin goatee, which appeared consistent with his booking photo from the day before. He had resurfaced Wednesday to turn himself in after weeks in hiding.
The judge said he found probable cause to move ahead with the case and that an arraignment would be held on May 29 before another judge.
Zimmerman was charged after a public campaign to make an arrest in the Feb. 26 shooting, which has galvanized the nation for weeks. Some legal experts had expected Zimmerman to face a lesser count of manslaughter and say a prosecutor will face steep hurdles to win a murder conviction. Zimmerman has claimed that he fired in self-defense.
Legal experts say prosecutors face steep hurdles to win a second-degree murder conviction against Zimmerman. The prosecutor and her team will have to prove the 28-year-old Zimmerman intentionally went after Martin instead of shooting him in self-defense, to refute arguments that a Florida law empowered him to use deadly force.
"He is concerned about getting a fair trial and a fair presentation," his attorney, Mark O'Mara said. "He is a client who has a lot of hatred focused on him. I'm hoping the hatred settles down ... he has the right to his own safety and the case being tried before a judge and jury."
Zimmerman, 28, turned himself in at a county jail Wednesday after special prosecutor Angela Corey announced the charge.
Legal experts said Corey chose a tough route with the murder charge, which could send Zimmerman to prison for life if he's convicted, over manslaughter, which usually carries 15-year prison terms and covers reckless or negligent killings.
The prosecutors must prove Zimmerman's shooting of Martin was rooted in hatred or ill will and counter his claims that he shot Martin to protect himself while patrolling his gated community in the Orlando suburb of Sanford. Zimmerman's lawyers would only have to prove by a preponderance of evidence - a relatively low legal standard - that he acted in self-defense at a pretrial hearing to prevent the case from going to trial.