After saying he did not regret any of his actions the night he killed Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman backtracked and apologized to America Wednesday night in his first interview since the shooting that polarized the nation nearly five months ago.
In an apparent attempt at damage control just two days after a cousin’s sexual molestation charges went public, Zimmerman broke his silence in an exclusive interview with Fox News conservative talk show host Sean Hannity. His lawyer, Mark O’Mara, sat beside him as Zimmerman recounted the Sunday night that he encountered a hoodie-clad black teenager who walked too leisurely in the rain.
Asked if he regretted getting out of the car that night or owning a gun, Zimmerman said no. Asked if he would do anything differently, Zimmerman said no a third time, and added that Trayvon’s death was “God’s plan.”
Later, as the interview ended and the host asked if Zimmerman had a message for Trayvon’s parents or the general public, Zimmerman said that before responding he wanted to change his answer to the earlier question. He explained that he thought Hannity had asked if he was sorry he didn’t get a lawyer at first, wished he hadn’t spoken to the police so much or taken voice stress tests.
“I do wish there was something, anything I could have done that wouldn’t have put me in the position where I had to take his life,” Zimmerman said. “I want to tell everyone, my wife, my family, my parents, grandmother, the Martins, the city of Sanford and America: I’m sorry that this happened. I’m truly sorry.”
In a statement after the show, Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, said: “We must worship a different God, because there’s no way my God would have wanted George Zimmerman to kill my son.”
Martin’s speechless attorney, Benjamin Crump, uttered just two words: “just ... unbelievable.”
Zimmerman recounted the events of Feb. 26, when he encountered Trayvon at a townhouse complex in Sanford. Zimmerman explained that he was on his way to go grocery shopping to Target, carrying a gun to the store like he did everywhere except work.
The teen’s “body language was confrontational,” and Zimmerman thought Trayvon put his hand in his waistband to intimidate. The teen, he thought, might have had a weapon.
Several times, Zimmerman denied following Trayvon, despite a tape of his call to police in which he said he was doing just that. When he told the police dispatcher that he was following the stranger he found suspicious, he meant he was “walking in the same direction, not actively pursuing him.”
Hannity asked if perhaps Trayvon ran because he was afraid.
Zimmerman said Trayvon “skipped,” and “wasn’t running out of fear.”
Hannity wondered how he could tell.
Zimmerman said Trayvon came out of nowhere and asked him if he had a problem. He said the high school junior broke his nose with one punch, banged his head on the concrete, hit him at least a dozen times in the head and threatened to kill him. He said Trayvon straddled and tried to suffocate him, causing excruciating pain.
Zimmerman said he “shimmied” on the ground to get off the concrete, causing his shirt to go up and gun to be exposed. He stopped Trayvon from getting it, he said, and fired a single shot.
He claimed an hour passed before he knew the boy was dead.
Twice, Hannity asked Zimmerman to explain his behavior immediately afterward that caused one witness to tell investigators that the shooter seemed unfazed by what had just happened.
“I was scared, nervous,” Zimmerman said. “I thought the police were going to come, see me with a firearm, and shoot me. I was terrified.”
He did not directly respond to a question about whether he molested his cousin — a claim his cousin made to investigators shortly after the shooting, which became public this week. His only mention of the cousin was to remark that the only person to accuse him of being “remotely racist” is the same person “who claims I am deviant.”
He asserted that he had been cleared of race-related charges by the FBI, a point which appeared to be his own analysis of the lack of damaging evidence contained in FBI reports released last week.
Explaining that he was raised by his Peruvian mother and grandmother while his Caucasian dad was in the Army, he considers himself “a Hispanic American.” He believes civil rights leaders such as Rev. Al Sharpton who accused him of being racist should apologize, like Zimmerman said he would if he had done something wrong.
O’Mara did not allow his client to respond to questions about whether he lied about money raised from supporters.
Hannity and Zimmerman added that no money exchanged hands for the interview. They talked about prior chats they had off camera, including one days before the arrest when Zimmerman was despondent, alone in a hotel with a gun. He had not spoken to his family in weeks.
Zimmerman said he was “sorry” that Trayvon’s parents had to bury their child.
“I love my children even though they aren’t born yet, and I am sorry that they buried their child,” Zimmerman said. “I can’t imagine what it must feel like, and I pray for them daily.”
Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder after a nationwide public outcry over racial profiling and the perception that Zimmerman received special treatment by the police department that investigated him.
The interview was an apparent attempt to stem a recent tide of negative publicity in the case.
“I am not a racist,” Zimmerman told Hannity. “I am not a murderer.”