George Zimmerman offered a surprise apology on Friday to the family of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager he shot dead in a Florida suburb, and a judge ordered Zimmerman freed on $150,000 bail pending trial on second-degree murder charges.
The parents of Martin, 17, were outraged that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, was allowed to make what they considered a self-serving apology from the witness stand, their lawyer said.
Zimmerman's release from Seminole County Jail could take days as prosecutors and defense lawyers work out agreements on how to protect his privacy. They also must decide whether he will be allowed outside Florida while charged with second-degree murder for killing Martin on February 26 in a case that sparked racial debate across the United States.
"I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son," Zimmerman, 28, told Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, briefly looking in their direction from the witness stand.
"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, who was dressed in a suit but still shackled around the waist and wrists.
Trayvon Martin's parents, who divorced in 1999, left the court stone-faced and with arms locked, declining to answer questions from reporters.
Zimmerman's dramatic comments drew sharp criticism from the lawyers for Martin's family, who called it too late to be considered genuine.
"They are devastated" that Zimmerman might soon be free on bail, attorney Benjamin Crump told reporters, adding that 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 of Zimmerman. "They (the parents) were very outraged at that."
Zimmerman comments could be used by prosecutors later in the case to impeach his credibility should they discover contradictions with previous statements to police.
Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda was limited in his cross-examination of Zimmerman to the apology and prohibited from delving into the facts of the case. But he made a point of locking Zimmerman into his statement that he also told police he "felt sorry for the family" about the death of Trayvon.
Zimmerman also testified he never changed his story in three separate statements to police.
Moments after the surprise testimony, Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. set bail of $150,000. Zimmerman's defense lawyer had requested bail of no more than $15,000 and prosecutors, who had opposed his release, suggested bail of $1 million.
Civil rights activists say racial prejudice played a role in the decision by Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Peruvian, to view Martin with suspicion as he walked through Zimmerman's gated community. Activists also say race was a consideration by police in not making an immediate arrest.
The judge set a number of conditions including electronic monitoring that he said would prevent Zimmerman from being released on Friday. Zimmerman also is barred from making further contact with the Martin family.
His release would be a "several day process," defense attorney Mark O'Mara said.
Earlier in the hearing, Zimmerman's wife, father and mother told the court Zimmerman was a non-violent person and they would help ensure he does not flee if released on bail.
The three were allowed to testify by telephone from outside the court to protect their privacy in the face of hate mail and the intense emotions the case has generated around the United States.
"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 defense questioning.
Zimmerman shot and killed the unarmed Martin in what he said was self-defense following a confrontation that occurred as Martin was returning to his father's house in the gated community after buying candy from a convenience store.
Zimmerman called police to report "a real suspicious guy" and then followed Martin against the advice of a police operator, according to a recording of the non-emergency call later made public.
Zimmerman told police he was walking back to his truck when Martin attacked, knocking him down with one punch to the nose. Martin then repeatedly slammed Zimmerman's head against a concrete walkway, Zimmerman's brother and father have said.
Zimmerman then pulled out a 9mm handgun he was licensed to carry and shot Martin once in the chest.
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.
A special prosecutor later assigned to the case charged Zimmerman on April 11 and he promptly surrendered after more than six weeks of staying out of the public eye.
Thousands of people had demonstrated in rallies in Sanford and around the nation to demand Zimmerman's arrest and criticize the police.
Zimmerman's relatives and supporters deny he is racist and say has been unfairly vilified.