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Prosecutors: Jail phone transcripts show Zimmerman, wife talking finances in code

From Vivian Kuo, CNN
updated 5:28 AM EDT, Tue June 19, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Zimmerman's lawyer explains the "code" and admits it credibility implications
  • NEW: The lawyer adds the calls have "so little to do with what counts in the case"
  • Zimmerman and his wife both claimed they were indigent at a bond hearing in April
  • Jailhouse phone calls released Monday show the two discussing their money

(CNN) -- Despite telling the court they were indigent, George Zimmerman and his wife discussed -- in code, according to prosecutors -- money raised online to help in his defense on second-degree murder charges, jailhouse phone calls released Monday show.

Prosecutors had claimed the Zimmermans lied about their financial means before a Florida judge set his bond, which the suspect then posted to get out of jail. Zimmerman, accused in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, is now back behind bars after the judge revoked his bail, citing the misrepresentations.

Six calls made public Monday, out of about 151 total that Zimmerman made while incarcerated, appear to back up the prosecutor's assertions.

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At her husband's April 20 bond hearing, Shellie Zimmerman testified she didn't know how much had been raised through the website her husband had set up before charges being filed.

And when asked whether the couple had money available to assist in his defense, she replied, "Um, not -- not that I'm aware of."

In one jailhouse phone conversation, Zimmerman asks his wife, "In my account, do I have at least $100?" She answers no, then tells him he has more like "$8, $8.60."

"So total everything, how much are we looking at?" Zimmerman asks his wife.

"Like $155," she responds.

Prosecutors claim the husband and wife were speaking in a type of code about their available funds, an assertion Zimmerman's lawyer Mark O'Mara says the defense has "never contested."

"There's no question that they were talking in this sort of simplistic kind of code, where they were talking about $155 when, without question, they were talking about $155,000," O'Mara told CNN's Piers Morgan on Monday night.

In another call, Zimmerman asks his wife to "pay off all the bills," including Sam's Club and American Express bills, prosecutors said.

The couple also discusses how much money can be accessed and what to do with it, including transferring funds that were raised online for his defense to accounts belonging to Zimmerman's sister and wife, prosecutors state in a probable cause affidavit.

Records released Monday show that tens of thousands of dollars were transferred out of a bank account. Prosecutors allege a total of $47,000 was transferred from George Zimmerman's account to his sister's account from April 16 and 17, and that Shellie Zimmerman transferred more than $74,000 from her husband's account to her account between April 16 and April 19.

After George Zimmerman was released on bond this spring, his wife transferred more than $85,500 from her account back to his account, according to the affidavit.

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Prosecutors allege the couple actually had about $135,000 of donations at their disposal when they both told the court, under oath, they were indigent.

O'Mara, Zimmerman's lawyer, later said his client ended up netting a total of $204,000 via PayPal accounts -- about $150,000 of which is now in an independently managed trust after $30,000 was used to pay for "life in hiding" and $20,000 has been kept liquid.

On June 1, Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. agreed with the prosecution that the Zimmermans were dishonest about their financial status and, after revoking George Zimmerman's bond, ordered that he return to jail. He remains behind bars and has a second bond hearing set for June 29.

On June 12, Shellie Zimmerman was arrested on a perjury charge, accused of lying at her husband's bond hearing about the couple's finances. She was released later that day after meeting the conditions of a $1,000 bond, the Seminole County Sheriff's Office said.

The defense team on Monday filed a motion asking a judge to reconsider the release of a witness statement and to clarify a previous ruling on the release of additional jail phone calls. Both issues will be addressed during next week's bond hearing.

It all ties into the larger case against Zimmerman, who prosecutors say ignored a police dispatcher's instruction and pursued Martin as he was walking in a Sanford, Florida, gated community last winter and shot the unarmed teenager. The 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, meanwhile, has insisted he shot Martin in self-defense.

Independent attorneys told HLN's Jane Velez-Mitchell the jailhouse recordings should be relevant in the case -- both as the judge weighs how high to set Zimmerman's bail and, once the trial begins, potentially affecting jurors' assessment as to whether his account of what happened February 26 can be trusted. While investigators talked to several neighbors and others, no one saw the shooting directly except for Zimmerman and the now-deceased Martin.

"His credibility is everything. Why would he risk it on something that is so trivial as this?" Georgia-based lawyer Pilar Prinz said of the Zimmermans' jailhouse discussions about their money. " I can't understand it."

O'Mara acknowledged the Zimmermans inflicted a "great blow to their credibility," making it clear the two had available funds and were not honest about it -- something that might prompt Judge Lester to order the defendant to stay in jail until the trial because he feels "he can no longer trust him."

But the lawyer said, in the 30 hours of calls between the couple, there's no indication the Zimmermans intended to deceive the judge, and also pointed out that his client came clean to him four days later. O'Mara also said the couple was stressed, fearful and distrustful at the time.

"I only hope that ... critics give it a more global perspective -- which is what (Zimmerman) was going through and what his family was going through as to why they may not have been completely honest about the money ... and sort of what they were facing," he said.

Lastly, O'Mara stressed that the questions about their finances are distinct from what happened the night of the shooting.

"It truly has so little to do with what counts in the case, which is what happened when Trayvon Martin passed away," he said.

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Besides the conversations about finances, the newly released phone calls shed light on the relationship between George and Shellie Zimmerman. In one exchange, they talk optimistically about their future together.

"After this, ... you're going to be able to just have a great life," Shellie Zimmerman said.

"We will," replies her husband.

The two also talk about the support Zimmerman has received from the public, in the wake of the controversy that followed the Martin shooting.

"You're special and (an) amazing role model to people, honey," his wife said.

"Hmm, I wish, I wish I were," Zimmerman said.

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