Man who shot at George Zimmerman sentenced to 20 yrs in prison

George Zimmerman © Joe Burbank
Matthew Apperson has received a 20-year prison sentence for attempted murder for shooting at George Zimmerman, who killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. Apperson testified that he shot at Zimmerman in self-defense during a road-rage incident.

Last month, Apperson, 38, was convicted by a Seminole County, Florida, jury of attempted second-degree murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle and aggravated assault with a firearm. On Monday morning, Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson sentenced him to 20 years in prison, according to the Orlando Sentinel, which is the state minimum for shooting at another person.

On May 11, 2015, Apperson and Zimmerman were driving separate vehicles side-by-side on Lake Mary Boulevard in Sanford, Florida. Apperson says Zimmerman pointed a gun at him, an allegation Zimmerman has denied. Apperson then fired his own gun in what he has called self-defense.

The bullet went through the passenger’s side window and was lodged in Zimmerman's car frame, just above the window. Zimmerman suffered minor injuries from glass or metal debris, the Sentinel reported.

"The crux here is Mr. Apperson's blatant disregard for my life, any life … anybody driving up and down Lake Mary Boulevard," Zimmerman told Judge Nelson on Monday, alleging that Apperson had "joyfully bragged" about killing Zimmerman that day.

The judge denied Apperson, a paralegal, the ability to file an appeal, saying that firing a gun at someone in a moving vehicle was a threat to public safety.

Apperson had been free on bond prior to a separate offense that was ruled a violation of his pretrial release terms. Apperson was charged with urinating on the front door of a neighbor's house, another reason he should not be released on bail, Judge Nelson said, according to the Sentinel. He has been in jail since July 31, 2015.

Apperson and Zimmerman were known to one another prior to the shooting event. Apperson worked in a business plaza that also housed a doctor's office which Zimmerman had visited. 

In September 2014, the two were again driving side-by-side when Apperson said he recognized Zimmerman and began yelling at him about the latter's fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, in which Zimmerman, then a Neighborhood Watch volunteer in Sanford, followed and confronted Martin against a police dispatcher's orders, eventually shooting the unarmed teenager amid a scuffle. Zimmerman was acquitted of murder in that case.

"It was nuts," Apperson said in court regarding the 2014 encounter with Zimmerman. "Here I am, minding my own business and out of nowhere I got, frankly, this nut job following me and threatening to shoot me. Bluntly, I thought he was dangerous."

He called the police afterward and claimed that Zimmerman had followed and threatened him. FBI investigators interviewed Apperson about Zimmerman, which he claims intensified his fear of Martin's killer.

Apperson did not pursue a "stand your ground" defense, as Zimmerman did successfully in the Martin case. Florida's "stand your ground" law says one can "stand their ground" and use deadly force without retreating in order to protect themselves or others from a threat while in a place they are legally allowed to be.

Prior to Monday's sentencing, Apperson's wife Lisa accused Judge Nelson of unfair rulings against her husband. She said authorities in Seminole County have "given George Zimmerman a golden ticket to go out and do whatever he wants to do."

Since killing Martin, Zimmerman has been involved in several incidents that have required police attention, including a gun-involved dispute with his estranged wife and father-in-law, alleged threats he made to his girlfriend, and an encounter in which he was punched in the face at a restaurant after he allegedly bragged about killing Martin. In May, he auctioned off the gun he used to kill Martin for nearly $140,000.

Janet White, Apperson's mother, pleaded with the judge on Monday to throw out the verdict, saying her son acted in self-defense.

"We will hold our collective breaths to see what outrageous acts he [Zimmerman] performs next," White said.

Martin's murder and Zimmerman's subsequent acquittal were catalysts for the Black Lives Matter movement and unrest across the US regarding systemic racism and police abuse.