George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman charged with murdering unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, said during his first televised interview: "I'm not a racist. I'm not a murderer."
Zimmerman, joined by his defense attorney Mark O'Mara, sat down with conservative Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity and discussed the events that unfolded the February night Zimmerman shot and killed the 17-year-old Martin, the national outrage the shooting caused and what he perceived as the media's rush to judgment.
"Is there anything that you regret? Do you regret getting out of the car to follow Trayvon that night?" Hannity asked. "Do you regret that you had a gun that night?"
"No, sir," Zimmerman, 28, replied. "I feel that it was all God's plan and not for me to second-guess it or judge it."
At times Zimmerman seemed to eke out a nervous smile, with sweat gathering on his upper lip. He spent much of the one-hour interview recounting the moments just before and after the shooting. But he also addressed Martin's parents. When asked what he would say to them, he answered, "I would tell them again that I'm sorry."
"I don't have my wife and I don't have any children," he said. "I have nephews that I love more than life, I love them more than myself. I know that when they were born it was a different, unique bond and love that I have with them. And I love my children, even though they aren't born yet. And I am sorry that they buried their child. I can't imagine what it must feel like, and I pray for them daily."
Zimmerman was arrested 44 days after the Feb. 26 shooting in his gated community in Sanford, Fla. He was jailed on two separate occasions and is now free on bail. Zimmerman told Hannity that while he has few regrets of the way he handled himself that night, the result was a "tragic situation and I hope that it's the most difficult thing I'll ever go through in my life."
About 45 minutes after the televised interview, Martin's family released a statement condemning Zimmerman's comments.
"George Zimmerman said that he does not regret getting out of his vehicle, he does not regret following Trayvon, in fact he does not regret anything he did that night," the statement read. "He wouldn't do anything different and he concluded it was God's plan.
"We must worship a different God because there is no way that my God would have wanted George Zimmerman to kill my teenage son," Tracy Martin, Martin's father, said in the statement.
Much of what Zimmerman addressed in the one-hour interview was rehashed, the stuff of previous news fodder from police reports, recorded phone calls and witness statements.
But it was the first time that Zimmerman publicly spoke about the shooting since he took the witness stand during an April bond hearing. And it gave him an opportunity to counter reports this week that a cousin claimed he molested her over the course of a decade when they were younger, and that his family was boastfully racist.
First, Hannity asked Zimmerman to "take us back to that night."
Zimmerman said that per his usual Sunday routine, he was on his way to do some grocery shopping at a nearby Target store when Martin caught his attention.
"That's the last time I've been home," Zimmerman said.
It was a rainy night, and Zimmerman said that Martin seemed suspicious because of the leisurely way that he was walking and ducking between the houses. Martin didn't look like a resident running out to get the mail or a "fitness fanatic," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman sat in his vehicle, his 9 mm handgun tucked into his waistband. He told Hannity that aside from work, he kept the licensed handgun on him at all times. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, told Hannity that he'd joined the previous August after a neighbor's house was broken into while she was home with her 9-month old baby. Zimmerman said his wife, Shellie, saw the burglars escape through their backyard.
"That was enough to scare her, to shake her up," Zimmerman said. "I promised her I would do what I could to keep her safe."
On an audio recording of a call Zimmerman made to a police non-emergency number the night of the shooting, Zimmerman said Martin saw him sitting in his vehicle and walked toward him, reaching into his waistband.
"I thought he was just trying to intimidate me," Zimmerman said.
On that same phone call to police, Zimmerman said Martin then ran. He told Hannity that Martin wasn't running at all, more like "skipping."
Zimmerman said he never went more than 100 feet from his vehicle, and got out just to see where he was. When asked about the gap from the time Zimmerman hangs up with the police dispatcher and the time Martin is killed, and whether he was following Martin after the dispatcher warned against it, Zimmerman said he wasn't. He said that he was simply trying to locate a proper address, and that he wasn't chasing Martin.
Less than 30 seconds later, Zimmerman said Martin appeared, "asked me what my problem was" and "punched and broke my nose." Zimmerman said that he wasn't sure if he was knocked on his back or pushed, but landed on his back with Martin pummeling him and smashing his head into the sidewalk "more than a dozen" times.
He said Martin taunted him during the struggle, telling him to "shut up, shut up, shut up," and at one point saying, "You're going to die tonight."
Zimmerman said Martin tried to suffocate him by covering his mouth and his broken nose with his hands. Zimmerman said that he screamed out hoping to alert the police, who he assumed would be arriving.
Zimmerman said Martin noticed the gun in his waistband.
"At that point I realized that it wasn't my gun, it wasn't his gun, it was the gun," Zimmerman said. "I didn't have any more time."
Zimmerman fired a single bullet into Martin's chest.
"He sat up and said something to the effect of, 'You got it,' or 'You got me,'" Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said he at first didn't realize how badly Martin was injured. About an hour later, after he was taken to the police station, he learned he'd killed the youth.
"Why do you think Trayvon would have confronted you the way he did," Hannity asked. "Could there have been any possibility that he thought you were after him and you thought he was after you and there was some misunderstanding in any way?"
"I wrestled with that for a long time, but one of my biggest issues through this ordeal has been the media, conjecture, and I can't assume or make believe," said Zimmerman.
Hannity then referenced that Martin's parents lost their son and what if anything Zimmerman would say to them if he could.
"I pray for them daily," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder and faces a possible life sentence if convicted. He said he thinks about that possibility daily, but trusts the system.
"It's a finite situation that I've been placed in," he said, "... I have no choice but to believe in the system."
O'Mara declined to allow Zimmerman to speak on allegations by prosecutors that he lied to the court during an early bond hearing in which he and his wife told the judge that they were broke, while days later it was revealed that the couple were sitting on more than $135,000 in donated funds. Shellie Zimmerman has been since charged with perjury and the judge has suggested that George Zimmerman may have broken the law as well.
O'Mara for the first time said that he is considering using Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, which gives people wide discretion in the use of deadly force, as a defense.
Zimmerman refuted claims by a cousin, now in her mid-20s, who told investigators that his immediate family were racist and that he sexually molested her from the time she was 6 years old until she was about 16.
"It is ironic the one and only person that they could find that's saying anything remotely to me being a racist also claims that I'm a deviant," Zimmerman said.
The interview comes after rumors that Hannity had offered to pay some of Zimmerman's legal fees. The rumor mill began churning this week after Zimmerman was heard in newly released recorded jailhouse phone calls telling a friend that a mystery benefactor he identified only as "SH" had agreed to support him.
Globalgrind.com later reported that "a rock-solid source" confirmed that the personal email address for 'SH' that George Zimmerman gave to a friend is Hannity's, "thus confirming that 'SH' is in fact the Fox News host," the website reported. Hannity during the interview denied offering Zimmerman anything.
The Zimmerman-Hannity relationship goes back several months. In April, Zimmerman defied his then-lawyers and spoke with Hannity in an off-the-record phone conversation. Hannity later conducted what critics have called a sympathetic interview with Zimmerman's father.
Toward the end of the interview, Hannity asked Zimmerman to look into the camera and address Martin's family, the American people and "so many people with so many opinions that vary so much ... to tell them about George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin."
Zimmerman looked into the camera, and said:
"I do wish that there was something, anything that I could have done that wouldn't have put me in the position where I had to take his life. And I do want to tell everyone, my wife, my family my parents, my grandmother, the Martins, the city of Sanford and America, that I'm sorry that this happened. I hate to think that because of this incident, because of my actions, it's polarized and divided America and I'm truly sorry."
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