George Zimmerman, the man who has admitted to shooting dead 17-year-old Trayvon Martin almost two months ago, an action which sparked protests across the US, has been granted $150,000 bail.
Addressing Martin's parents, who were present at Friday's suprise courtroom appearance in Sanford, Florida, Zimmerman said: "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," said Zimmerman, 28.
Moments later, Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Junior set a bail of $150,000, ten times the amount requested by Zimmerman's defence lawyer, while prosecutors, who had opposed his release, suggested bail of $1m.
"They are devastated" by the bail, family lawyer Benjamin Crump told reporters, adding that the father, Tracy Martin, had tears in his eyes throughout the hearing.
"And it was devastating that he got to give a self-serving apology to help him get a bond," Crump said. "They [the parents] were very outraged at that."
Martin's parents left the court stone-faced and with arms locked, declining to answer questions from reporters.
The judge set a number of conditions, including electronic monitoring that he said would prevent Zimmerman from being released on Friday.
His release would be a "several day process," defence attorney Mark O'Mara said.
Earlier in the hearing, Zimmerman's wife and father told the court that Zimmerman was a non-violent person and they would help ensure he does not flee should he be released on bail for a second-degree murder charge in Martin's death.
"I've never known him to be violent at all, unless he was provoked, and then he would turn the other cheek," father Robert Zimmerman testified under defence questioning.
Zimmerman shot and killed Martin in what he maintains was self-defence following a confrontation in a gated community in the central Florida city of Sanford on February 26.
Police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, citing Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which allows people to use deadly force when they believe they are in danger of getting killed or suffering great bodily harm.
But after nationwide outrage in the form of mass protests and celebrity support, a special prosecutor charged
Zimmerman with second-degree murder and he turned himself in on April 12, when he was booked into the Seminole County Jail.
Zimmerman had been in hiding for more than six weeks between the shooting and when he turned himself in.
Protesters said that racial prejudice played a role in Zimmerman's decision to view Martin with suspicion and in the police decision not to make an arrest.
According to 911 recordings, Zimmerman called police on the night of February 26 to report what he called "a real suspicious guy," then followed Martin against the advice of a police operator.
Zimmerman later told police that he was walking back to his truck when Martin attacked him, flooring him with one punch to the nose.
According to Zimmerman's statement, he pulled out a 9mm handgun he was licensed to carry, after the scuffle started, and shot Martin once in the chest, killing him.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|