March 25, 2012— -- After fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, Florida community watch captain George Zimmerman "couldn't stop crying,'' according to a family friend who spoke with him Saturday.
"After this started -- the reports I got -- [Zimmerman] couldn't stop crying,'' Joe Oliver told "Good Morning America" today.
Oliver, who described himself as a close friend of the family, said Zimmerman has gone into hiding, fears for his life, and is "just now becoming aware of how big this has gotten."
Oliver, who has known Zimmerman for six years, said he has been in regular contact with members of Zimmerman's family, who have briefed him on Zimmerman's day-to-day reactions as the case has grown into a national referendum on race, gun laws and criminal justice.
On Saturday, the militant New Black Panther Party offered a $10,000 bounty for Zimmerman's "capture."
On Friday, members of the Miami Heat basketball team dispatched Twitter pictures showing team members wearing "hoodies," apparently in solidarity with the family of Martin, who was wearing the popular hooded jacket when he was shot. Last week, President Obama weighed in on the controversial case, saying that if he had a son he would "look like" Trayvon Martin.
Craig Sonner, an attorney advising Zimmerman who appeared on "GMA" alongside Oliver, confirmed Oliver's relationship to the family.
On Saturday, Oliver said that in recent days Zimmerman has contacted a number of his friends, asking them to speak publicly in his defense, but that each of them declined his request, fearing for their own safety.
Zimmerman has not been charged with any crime.
The Justice Department and the FBI are investigating Zimmerman for possible civil rights violations, and a Seminole County grand jury will begin hearing evidence in the case on April 10.
Police who investigated the shooting said they found no evidence to refute Zimmerman's claims that he shot Martin in self-defense.
The investigation included a re-enactment of the shooting the following day, according to authorities. Florida law allows licensed gun owners to use deadly force if they fear their lives are in danger.
In the course of speaking with ABC News over the weekend, the emotional toll the case has taken on Oliver himself became evident when he stopped talking to remove his glasses and wipe his eyes.
He said he considers Zimmerman as close "as a son," and he's deeply frustrated by his inability to protect the 28-year-old from such searing public censure.
While increasingly concerned for his safety, Zimmerman nonetheless believes that in time he will be exonerated in the court of public opinion, Oliver said.
"Up until this point, because he was there and he knows what happened, and because he's not in jail, he's been very confident -- naively -- that this will all blow over,'' Oliver said on GMA.
"I think when the other 911 tapes are released, and the other evidence comes out, I think it will show clearly that George Zimmerman was acting in self defense,'' Oliver said. "The question is: how far did he pursue? Who made the initial contact? What started the confrontation in the first place? The fact that the investigation so far has come out the way it has -- because of Sanford's history -- I find it hard to believe that the Sanford Police Department wouldn't have George in jail now if they had one ... piece [of evidence] to support that fact. George Zimmerman is not in jail because ... they don't have the evidence to arrest him."
Florida's increasingly controversial "stand your ground" law was passed in 2005, eliminating the requirement that a person seek an alternative -- like fleeing -- before using force if they felt they were in physical danger.
The National Rifle Association and other advocates had argued that citizens were being arrested for merely defending themselves.
Florida, like many other states, has long held that citizens have the right to defend themselves in their own homes. Court rulings have expanded that right to include employees in workplaces and drivers in their cars. But there was long a reluctance to extend those rights to public places, so judges had ruled that citizens under threat must make some alternative attempt to violence to escape danger.
In 2005, the Florida House of Representatives voted 94-20 in favor of a new, "stand your ground" bill that eliminated the requirement to flee.
The state Senate passed the bill 39-0, and Governor Jeb Bush signed it into law.
Martin was returning to a friend's home in the gated Florida community of Sanford on Feb. 26, where Zimmerman was acting as a neighborhood watchman when Zimmerman spotted him and called police, describing the teen as suspicious.
He began to follow Martin, and continued speaking with police, who warned him repeatedly not to approach Martin.
Martin, meanwhile, was on the phone with a 16-year-old female friend, who told ABC News that she urged Martin to run.
She said she heard some pushing, and then the line went dead.
"He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man," the girl told ABC News. "I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run but he said he was not going to run."
Zimmerman was reportedly charged with assault on a police officer in 2005, when he was 21, after a scuffle with police over the arrest of one of his friends for underage drinking in a local bar. He accepted a pre-trial diversion that kept him from being convicted of a felony -- an outcome that might have prevented him from receiving a permit to carry a gun.
Sonner said he couldn't predict whether charges would eventually be filed against Zimmerman, but he is prepared for anything.
"It's going to the grand jury on April 10, and then the grand jury will make that decision at that time,'' Sonner said.
"So they can file charges at any time -- tomorrow is Monday -- they can file tomorrow," he said. "Whether they will or not? Thus far they have not, and it is my contention, when all the evidence I believe is going to come forward, I think it clearly going to be a case of self-defense."