ABOVE PHOTO: In this Feb. 27, 2012 image taken from a Sanford Police video posted on a website called gzlegalcase.com by George Zimmerman’s defense team, Zimmerman speaks to investigators, (not shown) at the scene of Trayvon Martin’s fatal shooting a day later giving police a blow-by-blow account of his fight with the teen. On the tape, Zimmerman did a reenactment of the scuffle with Martin in the moments before he shot the 17-year-old from Miami.
(AP Photo/Sanford Police video via Zimmerman Defense Team)
By Mike Schneider
ORLANDO, Fla. — A Florida judge ruled Thursday that George Zimmerman can be released from jail a second time on $1 million bond, saying he set the bail amount significantly higher because Zimmerman may have been hiding money as part of a plot to flee the country.
Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester had revoked Zimmerman’s $150,000 bond last month after prosecutors told the judge Zimmerman and his wife misled the court about how much money they had during an April bond hearing. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
“It is entirely reasonable for this court to find that, but for the requirement that he be placed on electronic monitoring, the defendant and his wife would have fled the United States with at least $130,000 of other people’s money,” Lester wrote.
Prosecutors said a website Zimmerman created for his legal defense had raised $135,000 at the time of his first bond hearing. Zimmerman and his wife did not mention the money then, and Shellie Zimmerman even said the couple had limited resources because she was a student and he wasn’t working.
The judge made his decision after listening last week to Zimmerman’s attorney and a forensic financial analyst explain why he wasn’t more forthcoming.
The judge expressed his unhappiness with Zimmerman and said that his actions suggest a possibility that he was preparing to flee to avoid prosecution.
“Under any definition, the defendant has flaunted the system,” Lester wrote in the order. “The defendant has tried to manipulate the system when he has been presented the opportunity to do so.”
Lester said he was granting bond because Zimmerman posed no threat to the community, and Florida law requires that most defendants receive bond if they pose no threat and can assure their presence for trial. The judge’s order requires Zimmerman to be electronically monitored and residing in Seminole County, prohibits him from opening a bank account or obtaining a passport and implements a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. Zimmerman had been allowed to leave Florida under the conditions of his first bond release.
Prosecutors previously argued Zimmerman and his wife talked in code during recorded jailhouse conversations about how to transfer the donations to different bank accounts. For example, George Zimmerman at one point asked how much money they had. She replied “$155.” Prosecutors allege that was code for $155,000. Their reference to “Peter Pan” was code for the PayPal system through which the donations were made, prosecutors said.
Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara sparred with prosecutors over those finances last week and questioned why his client is in jail at all, arguing that Martin’s actions led to his death. O’Mara did not immediately return a phone message Thursday.
O’Mara ultimately decided against calling his client to the stand during last Friday’s hearing, unlike during the first bond hearing, when Zimmerman apologized to Martin’s family.
The defense attorney called Zimmerman’s father to testify, and played a chilling 911 call from the Feb. 26 night when Martin was killed. The call includes a disputed cry for help and the fatal gunshot. Robert Zimmerman said he was sure that was his son’s cry.
Shellie Zimmerman has since been charged with perjury. She is out of jail on $1,000 bond and her arraignment is set for July 31.
Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting the unarmed 17-year-old Martin on Feb. 26 at a gated apartment community in Sanford. Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty and claims the shooting was self-defense under the state’s “stand your ground” law.
Martin’s parents and supporters claim that the teenager was targeted because he was black and that Zimmerman started the confrontation that led to the shooting. Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
The 44 days between the shooting and Zimmerman’s arrest inspired nationwide protests, led to the departure of the Sanford police chief and prompted a U.S. Justice Department probe.