Attorney says George Zimmerman was confused when he misled court

Monday , June 04, 2012 - 2:59 PM

Mike Schneider

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The former neighborhood watch leader charged with fatally shooting Trayvon Martin was confused and fearful when he and his wife misled court officials about their finances during an April bond hearing that allowed him to be released from jail, his attorney said Monday.

Attorney Mark O'Mara wrote on a website run by George Zimmerman's legal team that he will ask for another bond hearing. A day earlier, Zimmerman returned to jail because his $150,000 bond was revoked by a Florida judge after prosecutors claimed Zimmerman and his wife, Shellie, deceived the court during the bond hearing.

At the hearing, Shellie Zimmerman testified that the couple had limited funds for bail because she was a full-time student and her husband wasn't working. Prosecutors say Zimmerman actually had raised $135,000 in donations from a website he created.

Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester ordered Zimmerman returned to the Seminole County Jail, and Zimmerman complied Sunday afternoon. Zimmerman had been hiding in an undisclosed location for safety reasons.

"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," O'Mara said.

Zimmerman will remain in jail at least until next Monday because the judge will be out of court this week and has no hearings scheduled.

Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting Martin during a confrontation in a Sanford, Fla., gated community where Zimmerman lived and where Martin was visiting. He has pleaded not guilty and is claiming self-defense. The delay in his arrest for 44 days led to protests nationwide and led to intense debate about self-defense laws and race. Martin was black; Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is from Peru.

Prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda presented to the judge last week a partial transcript of telephone conversations Zimmerman had with his wife from jail, days before the April 20 bond hearing. Zimmerman and his wife discussed the amount of money raised from the website, and Zimmerman spoke in code to tell his wife how to make fund transfers, according to the transcript. The code referred to amounts of "$15" in place of "$150,000."



When Shellie Zimmerman was asked at the bond hearing how much money was raised from the website, she said, "Currently, I do not know."

O'Mara acknowledged that the phone calls make clear Zimmerman knew a lot of money had been raised by the website. But Zimmerman's judgment was clouded by threats to his safety that required him to stop working and forced Zimmerman and his family to leave their homes, the lawyer said.

"We feel the failure to disclose these funds was caused by fear, mistrust, and confusion," O'Mara said.

Of the $204,000 raised from the now-defunct website, $150,000 is under the administration of an independent third party. About $30,000 was used to help Zimmerman go into hiding after he was released from jail in April. The remaining $20,000 was kept in cash to help with the Zimmermans' living expenses. A separate website started by O'Mara has raised $37,000.

The revocation of Zimmerman's bond could impact his case in several ways, legal experts say.

If the judge refuses to grant bond a second time, O'Mara is under pressure to move the case along because his client will be sitting in jail, not his own home.

The bond problem also could influence the judge's opinion of Zimmerman's credibility if there is a "stand your ground" hearing. Such a hearing, before the judge and with no jury, would give Zimmerman the chance to argue he killed Martin in self-defense under the Florida law that gives wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat in a fight if people believe they are in danger of being killed or seriously injured.

If there is a trial, prosecutors, under certain circumstances, may be able to cite the bond hearing to raise questions about Zimmerman's credibility in a case in which he is going to need to convince a jury about his version of what happened during the confrontation.

"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," O'Mara said.

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