Casey Anthony

SANFORD, Fla. — In an unusually low-key turn to a high-profile case, George Zimmerman was released without incident around midnight Sunday from a Florida county jail on $150,000 bail as he awaits his second-degree murder trial for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin.

The neighborhood watch volunteer was wearing a brown jacket and blue jeans and carrying a paper bag. He walked out following another man and didn’t look over at photographers gathered outside. He then followed the man into a white BMW vehicle and drove away.

Moments before, two Seminole County sheriff’s vehicles blocked access to the intake building parking lot where Zimmerman was being released. Zimmerman emerged after two public information officers confirmed the credentials of the photographers outside.

No questions were shouted at Zimmerman, and he gave no statement.

His ultimate destination is being kept secret for his safety and it could be outside Florida.

As with the July 2011 release of Casey Anthony, the Florida woman acquitted of murder in the death of her daughter, Zimmerman was released around midnight. But the similarities end there. Anthony was quickly whisked away by deputy sheriffs armed with semi-automatic rifles as angry protesters jeered her. While news helicopters briefly tracked her SUV through Orlando before she slipped from public view, there was no such pursuit of Zimmerman, who will have to return for trial.

Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester said at a hearing Friday that Zimmerman cannot have any guns and must observe a 7 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew. Zimmerman also surrendered his passport.

Zimmerman had to put up 10 percent, or $15,000, to make bail. His father had indicated he might take out a second mortgage.

Zimmerman worked at a mortgage risk-management company at the time of the shooting and his wife is in nursing school. A website was set up to collect donations for Zimmerman’s defense fund. It is unclear how much has been raised.

Bail is not unheard of in second-degree murder cases, and legal experts had predicted it would be granted for Zimmerman because of his ties to the community, because he turned himself in after he was charged last week, and because he has never been convicted of a serious crime.

Prosecutors had asked for $1 million bail, citing two previous scrapes Zimmerman had with the law, neither of which resulted in charges. In 2005, he had to take anger management courses after he was accused of attacking an undercover officer who was trying to arrest Zimmerman’s friend. In another incident, a girlfriend accused him of attacking her.

Zimmerman, 28, fatally shot Martin, 17, Feb. 26 inside the gated community where Zimmerman lived during an altercation. Martin was unarmed and was walking back to the home of his father’s fiancée when Zimmerman saw him, called 911 and began following him. A fight broke out — investigators say it is unknown who started it.

Zimmerman says Martin, who was visiting from Miami, attacked him. Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense, citing Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which gives broad legal protection to anyone who says they used deadly force because they feared death or great bodily harm.

Zimmerman was not charged for over six weeks, sparking national protests led by Martin’s parents, civil rights groups and the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Martin was black; Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is from Peru.

Earlier Sunday, Zimmerman’s attorney was working to secure the money for bail and a safe place for Zimmerman to stay. But residents in Sanford, where Martin was killed, didn’t expect a ruckus once Zimmerman was released.

City commissioners said they hadn’t received calls from nervous residents. Protesters didn’t show up outside the jail. And talk at one local coffee shop seldom focused on the case.

“It’s just kind of a non-issue now,” said Michele Church, a server at Mel’s Family Diner. “That’s pretty much all anybody in Sanford wanted, was an arrest, so it could be sorted out in the court system.”

On Friday, a Florida judge agreed to let Zimmerman out on $150,000 bail. Defense attorney Mark O’Mara has said there are several options for where Zimmerman should go, but would not disclose any of them. Lester on Friday indicated Zimmerman would be allowed to leave the state if arrangements with law enforcement could be made for him to be monitored. He will be fitted with an electronic device.

About a half-dozen photographers and cameramen camped outside the Sanford jail Sunday, focused on the door marked “Bonds Rooms,” where other people who had been arrested and released on bail exited. Zimmerman had entered the jail about a week earlier after more than a month of nationwide protests calling for his arrest.

“The mood in Sanford has calmed down tremendously,” said Sanford Commissioner Patty Mahany, whose district includes the neighborhood where Martin was killed. “I think now that people are able to see the justice system taking place, even though they understand it’s going to be quite slow, people are willing to just remain calm and really we’re all getting back to our daily routines.”

A spokeswoman for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office declined to release any information about whether they were increasing patrols or security.

Defense attorneys for other high-profile clients who awaited trial on bail have said Zimmerman should leave Florida and refrain from going out in public. Sanford residents say they aren’t expecting to see him around the neighborhood anytime soon.

“They’ve already said they’re going to move him to a safe place,” Church said. “Everyone has calmed down. That’s all anyone in Sanford wanted, an arrest.”

Meanwhile, Martin’s parents published a “Card of Thanks” in The Miami Herald obituary page Sunday. The note says Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin express their appreciation for all the public’s support since their son’s death. The notice includes a photograph of Trayvon Martin dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, similar to one he was wearing the evening he was killed.

“Words will never express how your love, support and prayers lifted our spirits and continue to give us the strength to march on,” the letter says.

Casey Anthony, center, is overcome with emotion following her acquittal of murder charges at the Orange County Courthouse in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday, July 5, 2011. Anthony had been charged with killing her daughter, Caylee.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. — What could the future hold for Casey Anthony when she gets out of jail, perhaps as early as Thursday?

A day after she was acquitted of killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, in a case that was a coast-to-coast TV sensation, many of those who followed the riveting drama
are wondering.

“Anthony will always be dogged by the belief that she killed her child,” said Lewis Katz, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “She will never lead
a normal life.”

In a country known for second acts, never is a strong word. But should she be released at her sentencing Thursday, after nearly three years behind bars, Anthony could be hard-pressed to piece together some semblance of a normal life.

She may have to get out of town. Threats have been made against her, and online she is being vilified. Nearly 15,000 people “liked” the “I hate Casey Anthony” page on Facebook, which included comments wishing her the same fate that befell little Caylee. Ti McCleod, who lives a few doors from Anthony’s parents, said: “Society is a danger to Casey; she’s not a danger to society.”

Her family has been fractured by her attorneys’ insistence that Anthony’s father and brother molested her and that her father participated in a cover-up of Caylee’s death. On Tuesday, Anthony’s parents rose from their seats without emotion upon hearing the verdict and left the courtroom ahead of everyone else. Their attorney, Mark Lippman, said they haven’t spoken with their daughter since the verdict, and he wouldn’t say whether they believed she was guilty.

Anthony is a high school dropout who, before her arrest at 22, had limited work experience. Her last job was in 2006 as a vendor at Universal Studios theme park. While she once professed an interest in photography, and even found some work in the field, it’s not known whether she has skills that could translate into a career.

In a 2010 jailhouse letter to a friend, Anthony said she would like to adopt a child from Ireland “accent and all.”

Judge Belvin Perry will sentence Anthony on four misdemeanor counts of lying to investigators while they were looking into their daughter’s disappearance. Each count carries up to a year behind bars. At worst, she will serve only a little additional time.

Prosecutors contended that Anthony suffocated Caylee with duct tape because she wanted to be free to party and be with her boyfriends. Defense attorneys argued that the little girl accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool and that Anthony panicked and hid the body because of the effects of being sexually abused by her father.

The prosecutor in the case, Jeff Ashton, told NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday that the verdict left him and other prosecutors in shock. “I think I mouthed the word ‘wow’ about five times,” said Ashton, who is retiring Friday. A spokesman said the retirement had been planned for some time.

Ashton said that he believes the jurors applied the law as they understood it. “Beyond a reasonable doubt is a high standard,” he said.

Anthony’s attorneys did not return calls for comment.

Geneva Shiles of Orlando said she had trouble sleeping Tuesday night after witnessing the verdict from a seat in the courtroom.

“I’m angry and anxious to see what Casey will do with her life now that she’s free,” Shile said. “My question is: If she didn’t do it, who did?”