Trayvon Martin’s killer must return to jail, a judge ordered in a strongly worded ruling that said George Zimmerman and his wife lied to the court about their finances to obtain bond in a case that hinges on jurors believing his account of what happened the night the teen was killed.
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder for the February shooting. The neighborhood watch volunteer says he shot Martin in self-defense because the unarmed 17-year-old was beating him up after confronting Zimmerman about following him in a gated community outside Orlando.
Zimmerman was arrested 44 days after the killing, and during a bond hearing in April, his wife, Shellie, testified that the couple had limited funds available. The hearing also was notable because Zimmerman took the stand and apologized to Martin’s parents.
Prosecutors said in their motion that Zimmerman had US$135,000 available then. It had been raised from donations through a Web site he set up and they suggested more has been collected since and deposited in a bank account.
Shellie Zimmerman was asked about the Web site at the hearing, but she said she did not know how much money had been raised. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester set bail at US$150,000. The 28-year-old was freed a few days later after posting US$15,000 in cash — which is typical — and has since been in hiding.
“This court was led to believe they didn’t have a single penny,” prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda said on Friday. “It was misleading and I don’t know what words to use other than it was a blatant lie.”
The judge agreed and ordered Zimmerman returned to jail by this afternoon.
“Does your client get to sit there like a potted plant and lead the court down the primrose path? That’s the issue,” Lester said. “He can’t sit back and obtain the benefit of a lower bond based upon those material falsehoods.”
The judge questioning Zimmerman’s truthfulness could undermine the defendant’s credibility if it is brought up at trial, which could happen, and might complicate how his defense presents him as a witness, said Orlando-area attorney Randy McCLean, who is a former prosecutor.
Witness accounts of the rainy night Martin was shot are spotty. There is no video of the fight, though photographs prosecutors have released show Zimmerman with wounds to his face and the back of his head. His recollection of what happened is key.
“The other key witness, unfortunately is deceased,” McClean said. “Basically, Zimmerman is going to be asking the jury to believe his version of the facts ... As the case stands now, his credibility is absolutely critical to the case.”
The defense countered that Zimmerman and his wife never used the money for anything, which indicated “there was no deceit.”
His attorney, Mark O’Mara, said it would not be a problem to bring Zimmerman back into custody by the deadline.
The judge said he would schedule a hearing after Zimmerman is back in custody so he could explain himself.