George Zimmerman (28), the Hispanic man who shot dead African-American Trayvon Martin (17) sparking off the year's biggest debate on racial tensions in the United States, was set free on bail over the weekend, adding another twist to the nearly-two-month-old saga in Florida.
Mr. Zimmerman was released after posting bail of $150,000 on Sunday night. He is awaiting trial and faces charges of second-degree murder for shooting an unarmed Martin on the streets of Sanford, Florida, on February 26.
Martin, who was returning home after buying some candy and drinks, was observed by Mr. Zimmerman, who is said to have been “patrolling the area in his car and who called 911 to report what he described as a ‘real suspicious guy'”. An altercation is said to have occurred and when authorities arrived they found Martin dead from a gunshot wound to the chest.
Mr. Zimmerman claims he shot him in self-defence. However, the six weeks that passed before authorities were willing to charge Mr. Zimmerman inflamed racial tensions across a riveted nation.
The incident also revived the long-standing debate over Florida's so-called “stand your ground” law, under which a person suspected of engaging in deadly violence and claiming self-defence need not have attempted to retreat or escape the danger he was facing before striking. Gun-control groups have reportedly described this as the “Shoot First” law.
Following the latest decision to set Zimmerman free, the judge in the case, Kenneth Lester, noted that Mr. Zimmerman would be required to observe a daily curfew and surrender his passport. His location will be protected for his safety and it could be outside Florida, according to reports.
The case earlier grabbed headlines when President Barack Obama waded in and said “If I had a son he would look like Trayvon.” Celebrities, one Congressman and even the Occupy movement paid tributes to Martin by wearing his now-famous hooded jacket.
A dramatic movement that came during the bail hearing saw Mr. Zimmerman issue an apology to the Martin family. He said in court, “I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son... I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am. And I did not know if he was armed or not.”