(CNN) — George Zimmerman apologized Friday to the family of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed African-American teen that he shot in a confrontation that riveted a nation and sparked intense discussions about racial profiling and gun laws.
Zimmerman spoke moments before a Florida judge set a $150,000 bond that will let him get out of jail while he awaits trial.
“I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son,” Zimmerman said. “I did not know if he was armed.”
Before Zimmerman’s testimony, his family said he is a caring, nonviolent man who organized a campaign on behalf of a homeless man who had been beaten and mentored an African-American boy for two years, his mother testified Friday during his bond hearing.
“I know that he is very protective of people, very protective of homeless people and also of children,” Gladys Zimmerman testified by telephone.head
Zimmerman, 28, is accused of second-degree murder in Martin’s death on February 26.
Zimmerman went into hiding immediately after the shooting. Critics have accused him of racially profiling Martin and unjustly killing him.
His family testified Friday that the image is all wrong, saying earlier incidents of violence cited by prosecutors were misunderstandings or efforts to protect himself or a friend, and that he is no danger to the community.
“”I’ve never known him to be violent at all unless he was provoked, and then he would turn the other cheek,” Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman Sr. said.
The new judge in the case, Kenneth Lester Jr., presided at the bond hearing.
His wife and parents testified Friday that the family has few assets. They were unable to say how much money has been raised by Zimmerman’s online appeal for financial assistance.
Before his arrest, Zimmerman was hiding out of state but remained in touch with authorities, according to police in Sanford, Florida, where the shooting happened.
Natalie Jackson, an attorney for Martin’s family, told CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin on Thursday that O’Mara called to set up a private meeting between Zimmerman and the Martin family. The family declined, Jackson said, indicating they want Zimmerman, instead, to give a deposition on what happened the night Martin was shot.
Although details of the shooting remain murky, what is known is that Martin ventured out from the home of his father’s fiancee in Sanford and went to a nearby convenience store, where he bought a bag of Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea.
On his way back, he had a confrontation with Zimmerman, who shot him.
Zimmerman had called 911 to complain about a suspicious person in the neighborhood, according to authorities.
In the call, Zimmerman said he was following Martin after the teen started to run, prompting the dispatcher to tell him, “We don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman pursued Martin anyway but then said he lost sight of him.
According to an Orlando Sentinel story later confirmed by Sanford police, Zimmerman told authorities that after he briefly lost track of Martin, the teen approached him. After the two exchanged words, Zimmerman said, he reached for his cell phone, and then Martin punched him in the nose. Zimmerman said Martin pinned him to the ground and began slamming his head onto the sidewalk, leading to the shooting
Police have said Zimmerman was not immediately charged because there was no evidence to disprove his account that he’d acted in self-defense. A police report indicated he was bleeding from the nose and the back of his head.
Sanford held what was termed a community healing meeting Thursday night.
For some Sanford residents, the Martin case has become a rallying cry, a chance to air what they believe are years of grievances and cases of injustice between the police, the courts and the black community. For others, it has forced them to defend their town as a place that is not inherently racist, a place where a young black man cannot be killed without consequence.
During the meeting, the city offered a plan to improve strained relations between police and the black community. The proposal includes a community relations commission, a blue-ribbon panel to represent community concerns, a diverse interfaith alliance and an anti-violence campaign.
Meanwhile, Florida authorities have picked 17 people to tackle a heated question brought on by the killing of Martin: whether the state’s “stand your ground law” should be changed.
The task force, whose membership was announced Thursday, will review the law that allows people to use deadly force when they feel a reasonable threat of death or serious injury.