"I assure you, the facts will come to light," George Zimmerman writes online
"Website is a luxury that Trayvon Martin doesn't have," Martin family lawyer says
Martin's killing has provoked debate over race and Florida's self defense law
A Florida prosecutor says she won't send the case to a grand jury
The man at the center of a firestorm over his shooting of an unarmed Florida teenager has launched a website, warning supporters about groups that falsely claim to be raising funds for his defense and soliciting donations for himself.
“I am the real George Zimmerman,” declares the website, set up over the weekend.
“On Sunday February 26th, I was involved in a life altering event which led me to become the subject of intense media coverage. As a result of the incident and subsequent media coverage, I have been forced to leave my home, my school, my employer, my family and ultimately, my entire life. This website’s sole purpose is to ensure my supporters they are receiving my full attention without any intermediaries.”
Zimmerman’s “life altering event” was the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an act that the neighborhood watch volunteer told Sanford, Florida, police was an act of self defense. Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime in Martin’s death, a fact that has provoked demonstrations and calls that he be prosecuted for killing the teen.
The statement posted on therealgeorgezimmerman.com warns viewers that “some persons and/or entities have been collecting funds, thinly veiled as my ‘Defense Fund’ or ‘Legal Fund.’ I cannot attest to the validity of these other websites as I have not received any funds collected, intended to support my family and I through this trying, tragic time.”
But the site includes a link through which viewers can donate money to pay for Zimmerman’s lawyers and living expenses “in lieu of my forced inability to maintain employment.” Zimmerman pledges to “personally maintain accountability of all funds received.”
“I am grateful to my friends that have come to my aid, whether publicly or personally, never questioning my integrity or actions, understanding that I cannot discuss the details of the event on February 26th, and allowing law enforcement to proceed with their investigation unhindered,” the 28-year-old Zimmerman wrote on another of the site’s pages. “Once again, I thank you for your patience and I assure you, the facts will come to light.”
Until now, only friends and relatives have come forward to speak on Zimmerman’s behalf. His attorneys have said he wants to share his story but can’t, because of threats to his safety and the possibility of criminal charges.
Zimmerman’s lawyers and a friend confirmed the authenticity of the website. The friend, Frank Taaffe, told CNN sister network HLN that while the site is being used to raise funds for a legal defense, it doesn’t mean Zimmerman expects to be charged in connection with Martin’s death.
“That has nothing to do with it,” Taaffe told HLN’s “Issues With Jane Velez-Mitchell.”
But Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Martin’s family – which also has a site raising funds to support their efforts – said it’s unfair that Zimmerman is still free to express his views and solicit money.
“If the situation was reversed, Trayvon Martin would have been arrested day one, hour one,” Benjamin Crump told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” on Monday night. “We believe Zimmerman should have been arrested and put into jail. This situation with this website is a luxury that Trayvon Martin doesn’t have and never would have had.”
The special prosecutor assigned to oversee the investigation, Angela Corey, announced Monday that she would not present a case against the Zimmerman to a grand jury. But her office added in a written statement, “The decision should not be considered a factor in the final determination of the case.”
Crump said earlier that Martin’s family hopes to see charges against Zimmerman as soon as possible.
“We were anticipating that there would be no grand jury, because the family has always been hopeful that there would just simply be an arrest,” Crump said. “We believed, from day one, that they had enough evidence to arrest the killer of Trayvon Martin and now, as the evidence has continued to unfold, we think there has been a plethora of evidence to simply effect probable cause to do an arrest – not for a conviction, but for an arrest.”
He told CNN that the victim’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, “said that she’s prayerful” Zimmerman will be arrested.
“We want a very public trial so the evidence can come out and show people that the justice system works for everybody,” Crump added.
And the Justice Department said the grand jury decision does not affect any federal role. “The department’s parallel investigation remains ongoing,” Justice spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said.
“We hope this decision signals the special prosecutor’s intention to live up to her reputation as a passionate, justice-focused attorney and bring charges against Zimmerman herself,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “The future of this case now rests solely with her and we have faith that she will do her best to secure justice for Trayvon Martin.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed Corey as a special prosecutor as calls for “Justice for Trayvon” grew in the days following the shooting. She said previously that she had never used a grand jury to decide on charges in a case that hinged on questions of whether a killing was justifiable.
“We do a thorough investigation. We make that decision ourselves,” she said.
Zimmerman’s attorney, Hal Uhrig, told CNN that he was “not surprised” that Corey wouldn’t present a case to a grand jury.
“Don’t know what her decision will be. Courageous move on her part,” he wrote in a text message to CNN’s Martin Savidge. Uhrig said he and Zimmerman legal adviser Craig Sonner plan to meet with Zimmerman for the first time “probably later this week.”
Martin’s death has triggered a nationwide debate about race in America and Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force anywhere they feel a reasonable threat of death or serious injury.
Sanford police questioned Zimmerman and released him without charges. Authorities have said Zimmerman was not immediately charged because there were no grounds, at the outset, to disprove his account that he’d acted to protect himself. But thousands have converged on Sanford to join in protests calling for Zimmerman’s arrest and criticizing the police department’s handling of the case.
On Monday, a group of students calling themselves the Dream Defenders marched to the Sanford police station. Six of the demonstrators wore hooded sweatshirts, as Martin did the night he was shot, as they blocked the department’s main entrance; others linked arms, sang and chanted as they stood facing the building.
The demonstration closed the police department headquarters briefly, and City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. and Acting Police Chief Darren Scott met with leaders of the student group and community leaders.
Although details of the February 26 incident remain murky, what is known is that Martin, who was African-American, ventured out from his father’s fiancee’s home in Sanford to get a snack at a nearby convenience store. As he walked home with a bag of Skittles and an Arizona iced tea, he was shot and killed by Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, and who had called 911 to complain about a suspicious person in the neighborhood.
CNN’s Terry Frieden, George Howell, Vivian Kuo, Eric Fiegel and Ashleigh Banfield contributed to this report.