George Zimmerman. (Photo by Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel-Pool/Getty Images)
By William M. Welch, USA TODAY
George Zimmerman said Wednesday that he prays daily for the parents of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager he is charged with killing, even while declaring he acted in self-defense and asserting, "I'm not a racist, and I'm not a murderer."
In his first public comments since taking the witness stand at an initial bond hearing, Zimmerman told Fox News host Sean Hannity that Trayvon, 17, punched him, broke his nose, pushed him to the ground and pounded his head into the concrete sidewalk during their deadly confrontation Feb. 26 in a gated community in Sanford, Fla.
Zimmerman, 28, said he repeatedly cried for help. "That was my voice, absolutely," heard calling for help on a police audio tape, Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said he felt the course of the night "was all God's plan."
On the Today show Thursday Trayvon's parents said Zimmerman's comments were "ridiculous" and that he had "no regards" or regrets for taking their son's life.
"I really think that's ridiculous,'' Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, told Matt Lauer. "I wish Trayvon was here to tell his side of the story. I don't believe that it's God's plan for him to kill an innocent teenager.''
"He had no regards for Trayvon's life, and he don't regret taking Trayvon's life,'' Trayvon's father, Tracy Martin, said. "Had George Zimmerman stayed in his vehicle, Trayvon would be with us here today.''
Martin's family and their attorney disputed Zimmerman's account of the events of that night.
"Those are the words of George Zimmerman,'' Martin said. "George Zimmerman said they were fighting over the gun. There are no witnesses to say they were fighting over the gun. George Zimmerman is here to tell his story. Travyon is dead.''
Zimmerman said Trayvon slammed his head "more than a dozen" times while straddling him, and he reached for the gun he was carrying when he believed Trayvon was trying to grab it first. He said Trayvon told him, "You're going to die."
Zimmerman, who pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder, said he did not realize Trayvon had been fatally injured until an hour after Zimmerman was taken for questioning at the Sanford police station, but he said that after firing his weapon, Trayvon "said something to the effect, you got it, or you got me ... at which point I got out from under him."
Asked what he would tell Trayvon's parents, Zimmerman said, "I am sorry that they buried their child. I can't imagine what it must feel like. And I pray for them daily."
The neighborhood watch volunteer was accompanied in the interview by his lawyer, Mark O'Mara. The case drew international attention and touched off a debate over racial profiling. Trayvon is black; Zimmerman is a white Hispanic.
Asked what he would say to those who believe he acted out of racial stereotyping, Zimmerman said, "That I'm not a racist, and I'm not a murderer." He said he had no regrets about his actions, but "I'm sorry that this happened."
Zimmerman has indicated that he would be willing to speak privately to Martin's parents about the incident.
"Absolutely not,'' Fulton said on Thursday.
The move by Zimmerman to go on national television while free on bail was regarded by some legal analysts as carrying high risks.
Royal Oakes, a Los Angeles attorney, called the move "a lawyer's nightmare" because everything Zimmerman says or does on TV will be scrutinized by prosecutors and potentially used against him in court.
"Here Zimmerman thinks he can turn public opinion around and convince the national psyche that he is a good guy, an innocent guy who was just trying to defend himself," Oakes said. "It's very likely to backfire. It's fraught with extreme peril."
Oakes pointed to the decision by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky to do an interview with NBC's Bob Costas in November, which produced comments about his relationship with young boys prior to Sandusky's trial and conviction last month.