NEW: George Zimmerman's attorneys say "fear, mistrust and confusion" resulted in "mistake"
Trayvon Martin's family is relieved that Zimmerman is back in jail, attorney says
Zimmerman's lawyers say they will request the new hearing Monday
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin
George Zimmerman’s lawyers have vowed to file a motion asking a Florida judge for a new bond hearing for their client Monday, a day after the murder suspect returned to jail on a judge’s order.
The 28-year-old Florida man accused in the death of Trayvon Martin had been free on bond for weeks until Sunday afternoon, when he turned himself in to authorities in Seminole County, Florida.
Zimmerman become a focus of intense national attention earlier this year, after he fatally shot the unarmed African-American teenager who had gone out to buy a bag of Skittles and Arizona iced tea at a 7-Eleven in Sanford, Florida.
The neighborhood watch volunteer said the February 26 shooting was in self-defense. Martin’s family and civil rights activists from around the nation said that Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, racially profiled the 17-year-old and ignored a 911 dispatcher’s request not to follow him.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Martin’s family, told CNN on Monday the youth’s parents are “relieved that the killer of their unarmed, teenage son is back in jail. They have always wanted him to stay in custody until the trial.”
In April, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder after the case was referred to a state attorney for a review. He was released from custody later that month after posting bail.
But on Friday, Seminole County Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. ordered Zimmerman back to jail, accusing the suspect of not being truthful about how much money he had access to when his bond was set months earlier.
At the time, his wife told the court under oath that the family was indigent. But prosecutors alleged that Zimmerman had $135,000.
“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,” Zimmerman’s defense team said on its website, GZLegalcase.com, on Monday. His actions, including giving voluntary statements to police and twice surrendering himself to police when told to do so, should demonstrate that he is not a flight risk, attorneys said.
Citing recorded jailhouse conversations between Zimmerman and his wife, prosecutors alleged the two spoke in code when discussing the money in a credit union account, according to court documents filed last Friday by State Attorney Angela B. Corey.
Zimmerman “fully controlled and participated in the transfer of money from the PayPal account to defendant and his wife’s credit union accounts,” Corey said in court records. “This occurred prior to the time defendant was arguing to the court that he was indigent and his wife had no money.”
The judge “relied on false representations and statements” by Zimmerman and his wife when the court set his bond at $150,000, Corey said. Zimmerman was required to post only 10% of that.
Lester appeared angry that the court had not been told about the money.
“Does your client get to sit there like a potted palm and let you lead me down the primrose path?” he asked Zimmerman’s lawyer. “That’s the issue.”
Defense lawyers said in an earlier online statement that “the vast majority of the funds in question are in an independently managed trust” that Zimmerman and his attorneys cannot access directly.
“The audio recordings of Mr. Zimmerman’s phone conversation while in jail make it clear that Mr. Zimmerman knew a significant sum had been raised by his original fundraising website,” attorneys said Monday. “We feel the failure to disclose these funds was caused by fear, mistrust and confusion. 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.”
The attorneys said Zimmerman did disclose the existence of the funds five days after the bond hearing, during his first conversation with the defense about the fund. “When the defense team learned of the funds, we disclosed this to the court and to the State Attorney’s Office, and the money was transferred to the Legal Defense Fund which is now independently managed,” the defense said.
Of the $204,000 raised by the website, about $150,000 is now in the defense fund and $30,000 was used “to make the complicated transition from private life in Sanford, Florida, to a life in hiding as a defendant in a high-profile court case.” The remainder, about $20,000, “was kept liquid to provide living expenses for the first several months as the legal process unfolds,” attorneys said.
Since the Legal Defense Fund was established last month, another $37,000 has been contributed, defense attorneys said. Of that, about $2,000 has been used for household expenses and “less than $300” for the fund management and fees associated with maintaining the bond conditions.
“None of the funds have yet to be allocated to legal expenses,” the website said, and neither Zimmerman nor his attorneys have access to the fund.
Addressing reporters after last week’s ruling, lead defense attorney Mark O’Mara expressed hope that his client’s detention once again would be short-lived.
“The revocation of bond, I hope, is temporary,” O’Mara said. “I hope that they will give us a day in court to explain George’s behavior and look at all the circumstances … in determining what (Judge Lester) is going to do about letting him back out on bond.”
But Crump, the Martin family attorney, said Monday that “if attorney O’Mara files the motion, then the stage is set for George Zimmerman and his wife to have to take the witness stand and try to explain what the state attorney said were blatant lies to the court, thus exposing them further to credibility issues.”
Zimmerman’s credibility, he said, is key in the case, as “it is only his version of the facts that say Trayvon Martin attacked him. All the objective evidence suggests that he pursued and shot Trayvon Martin in the heart.”
“If Trayvon Martin had lied to the court, we believe he would not be given a bond,” Crump said. “He would have to sit in jail until his trial, and all his parents have asked, his family … has only asked for equal justice.”
For now, Zimmerman is being held on no-bail status in administrative confinement at Seminole County’s John E. Polk Correctional Facility, Sheriff Donald Eslinger said. Equipped with two beds and a toilet, his cell is designed to hold two inmates and is about 67 square feet, the sheriff’s office said.
Zimmerman is “anticipated” to stand trial sometime next year, according to his defense team. His return to jail centers on a pool of money that appears to have been donated to Zimmerman through a website he set up to help with a legal defense fund.
O’Mara said in an interview with CNN that his client, who was not in court for Friday’s hearing, is “frustrated because he now has to come out of hiding.”
“You need to realize we’re still talking about a 28-year-old who’s being charged with a crime he does not believe he committed, and his whole life has been turned upside down. So I think that it all needs to be kept in context.”