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Trayvon Martin case: Online fund for George Zimmerman now being tapped

Some $50,000 from an online defense fund for suspect George Zimmerman has been tapped to cover his living expenses and security, pending trial. He pleaded not guilty this week to second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

By Staff writer / May 10, 2012

In a April 20 file photo, George Zimmerman appears before Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester Jr. during a bond hearing in Sanford, Fla.

Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/AP

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Online donations to George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain charged in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, are being used to help pay for Mr. Zimmerman's living expenses, security, and defense counsel – a development that the defendant's lawyer this week acknowledged is somewhat "controversial." 

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Earlier in the case, Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, had characterized his client as indigent, noting that his family has "limited means" and that Zimmerman himself can no longer work amid concerns about his safety stemming from the highly charged atmosphere surrounding Trayvon's death. 

But this week Mr. O’Mara acknowledged that Internet donations will allow Zimmerman to draw $50,000 between now and his trial for second-degree murder. Zimmerman, who is out of jail on a $150,000 bond, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday, ahead of an Aug. 8 court hearing. He is in hiding and his whereabouts are not publicly known.

O’Mara, a criminal defense lawyer from central Florida, also indicated that money pouring in from Zimmerman supporters means he himself will be paid for at least some of his work, after originally agreeing to take on the defense as a pro bono case. According to a new website, more upscale than Zimmerman’s original “The Real George Zimmerman” site, support for Zimmerman has been “warm,” with donations ranging from $10 to $500 per person.  

But O’Mara also acknowledged that using social media to raise money for defense and living expenses is a “controversial” step that challenges legal traditions. 

Social media is "now a critical part of presidential politics, it has been part of revolutions in the Middle East, and it’s going to be an unavoidable part of high profile legal cases,” he writes on the new website. "We understand that this is controversial, but Mr. Zimmerman deserves a fair trial, and mounting a defense is an expensive proposition."

Florida Judge Kenneth Lester, who is presiding over the case, so far has not changed the conditions of Zimmerman's bail, even though the suspect's full financial resources were not disclosed at his April 20 bond hearing. Judge Lester is currently weighing other issues in the case, particularly the extent of the public's right to know certain details, such as the names of witnesses to the shooting or the names of people who have donate to Zimmerman's defense fund.

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