Attorney: George Zimmerman Was Confused, Fearful

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

Attorney: George Zimmerman Was Confused, Fearful
by Mike Schneider, AP

Orlando, FL (AP) -- June 4, 2012 --

The former neighborhood watch leader charged with fatally shooting Trayvon Martin was confused and fearful when he and his wife misled court officials about their finances during an April bond hearing that allowed him to be released from jail, his attorney said Monday.

Attorney Mark O'Mara wrote on a website run by George Zimmerman's legal team that he will ask for another bond hearing. A day earlier, Zimmerman returned to jail because his $150,000 bond was revoked by a Florida judge after prosecutors claimed Zimmerman and his wife, Shellie, deceived the court during the bond hearing.

At the hearing, Shellie Zimmerman testified that the couple had limited funds for bail because she was a full-time student and her husband wasn't working. Prosecutors say Zimmerman actually had raised $135,000 in donations from a website he created.

Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester ordered Zimmerman returned to the Seminole County Jail, and Zimmerman complied Sunday afternoon. Zimmerman had been hiding in an undisclosed location for safety reasons.

"While Mr. Zimmerman acknowledges that he allowed his financial situation to be misstated in court, the defense will emphasize that in all other regards, Mr. Zimmerman has been forthright and cooperative," O'Mara said.

Zimmerman will remain in jail at least until next Monday because the judge will be out of court this week and has no hearings scheduled.

Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting Martin during a confrontation in a Sanford, Fla., gated community where Zimmerman lived and where Martin was visiting. He has pleaded not guilty and is claiming self-defense. The delay in his arrest for 44 days led to protests nationwide and led to intense debate about self-defense laws and race. Martin was black; Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is from Peru.

Prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda presented to the judge last week a partial transcript of telephone conversations Zimmerman had with his wife from jail, days before the April 20 bond hearing. Zimmerman and his wife discussed the amount of money raised from the website, and Zimmerman spoke in code to tell his wife how to make fund transfers, according to the transcript. The code referred to amounts of "$15" in place of "$150,000."

When Shellie Zimmerman was asked at the bond hearing how much money was raised from the website, she said, "Currently, I do not know."

O'Mara acknowledged that the phone calls make clear Zimmerman knew a lot of money had been raised by the website. But Zimmerman's judgment was clouded by threats to his safety that required him to stop working and forced Zimmerman and his family to leave their homes, the lawyer said.

"We feel the failure to disclose these funds was caused by fear, mistrust, and confusion," O'Mara said.

Of the $204,000 raised from the now-defunct website, $150,000 is under the administration of an independent third party. About $30,000 was used to help Zimmerman go into hiding after he was released from jail in April. The remaining $20,000 was kept in cash to help with the Zimmermans' living expenses. A separate website started by O'Mara has raised $37,000.

The revocation of Zimmerman's bond could impact his case in several ways, legal experts say.

If the judge refuses to grant bond a second time, O'Mara is under pressure to move the case along because his client will be sitting in jail, not his own home.

The bond problem also could influence the judge's opinion of Zimmerman's credibility if there is a "stand your ground" hearing. Such a hearing, before the judge and with no jury, would give Zimmerman the chance to argue he killed Martin in self-defense under the Florida law that gives wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat in a fight if people believe they are in danger of being killed or seriously injured.

If there is a trial, prosecutors, under certain circumstances, may be able to cite the bond hearing to raise questions about Zimmerman's credibility in a case in which he is going to need to convince a jury about his version of what happened during the confrontation.

"The gravity of this mistake has been distinctly illustrated, and Mr. Zimmerman understands that this mistake has undermined his credibility, which he will have to work to repair," O'Mara said.

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George Zimmerman Returns To Florida For His Surrender

SANFORD, Fla. (CBS/AP) -- June 4, 2012

(CBS/AP) MIAMI - George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer charged with murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin, surrendered to police Sunday and was booked into a central Florida jail two days after his bond was revoked.

Zimmerman's legal team said in a tweet Sunday afternoon that he was in police custody. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester revoked Zimmerman's bond on Friday, saying the defendant and his wife had lied to the court in April about their finances so he could obtain a lower bond.

About 40 minutes before the 2:30 p.m. Sunday deadline to surrender, the Seminole County jail website listed Zimmerman as an inmate. He was being held without bail and had $500 in his jail account, the website showed.

Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger said Zimmerman turned himself in to two sheriff's office employees around 1:25 p.m. near the jail, and was then driven there. Zimmerman arrived in a white minivan and did not respond to questions from reporters as he walked inside, handcuffed and wearing blue jeans, sneakers and a button-down shirt.

"He is quiet and cooperative," Eslinger said at a news conference after Zimmerman's surrender.

The sheriff's office said the 28-year-old Zimmerman would be in a cell by himself, separated from the general population, because the case is so high-profile. The 67-square-foot cell is equipped with a toilet, two beds, a mattress, a pillow, a blanket and bed sheets. Zimmerman will not have access to a TV.

Prosecutors said last week that Zimmerman and his wife told the judge at a bond hearing in April that they had limited money, even though he had raised about $135,000 through a website set up for his legal defense. They suggested more has been collected since and deposited in a bank account. Defense attorneys say the matter is a misunderstanding.

The judge said Friday he would schedule a hearing after Zimmerman was back in custody so he could explain himself.

On "CBS This Morning" O'Mara told Charlie Rose that he believes the Zimmermans had made a mistake.

"I think it was out of fear, and maybe some frustration with having their lives turned completely upside-down and not having a good level of trust with anyone that they were dealing with. But I think they realize it was a mistake. They look forward to the opportunity to clearing that up with Judge Lester," O'Mara said.

O'Mara said the Zimmerman family must apologize for not being straightforward with the judge about the funds raised online for George Zimmerman's defense.

He denied that there was tension between himself and his client, but admitted Monday that "certainly there was some frustration with realizing that what was, I truly believe, an oversight, or at least a mistake that they made, has now truly come to bear on Mr. Zimmerman directly with his incarceration."

Zimmerman, who was charged in April with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of the 17-year-old Martin in Sanford, was ordered by a judge Friday to return to jail. After his release, Zimmerman stayed at an undisclosed location for his safety.

Zimmerman's legal team said Sunday that they will ask for a new bond hearing to address the judge's concerns, and that they hope Zimmerman's voluntary surrender will show he is not a flight risk.

The money that Zimmerman has raised is in an independent trust and cannot be directly accessed by Zimmerman or his attorneys, according to the press release.

He has pleaded not guilty to the second-degree murder charge. He maintains that he shot Martin in self-defense under Florida's so-called "stand your ground" law because the teen, who was unarmed, was beating him up. Zimmerman claims the teenager had confronted the then-neighborhood watch volunteer about following Martin in a gated community in Sanford, about 25 miles northwest of Orlando.


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