If Florida authorities decide to file charges against George Zimmerman for shooting Trayvon Martin, will they be able to find him? That’s suddenly become a key question in the case of the neighborhood watch volunteer and his fatal encounter with an unarmed black teenager.
On Tuesday, Mr. Zimmerman’s now-former attorneys announced that they no longer represented him, in large part because he was in hiding and had stopped responding to their calls. The attorneys said they did not know where Zimmerman was – adding that they were fairly certain he was no longer in the state where the Feb. 26 incident with Trayvon occurred.
“You can stop looking in Florida,” said attorney Hal Uhrig at a press conference. “Look much further away than that.”
Trayvon Martin family representatives expressed surprise and concern over this revelation. Attorney Benjamin Crump issued a statement to Time magazine in which he urged Florida law enforcement to consider the possibility that Zimmerman is now a flight risk.
“If they go to press charges, is he really going to face them?” Mr. Crump said.
Zimmerman’s ex-lawyers said that fears their former client was on the lam are overblown. In a Wednesday appearance on NBC's “Today" show, attorney Craig Sonner said he believes that Zimmerman will turn himself in if he is required to do so.
“I don’t believe he is going to flee the country,” Mr. Sonner said.
At the same time, Sonner described Zimmerman as someone who may be in a fragile mental state and who is acting in ways that may not be in his best interest. Zimmerman has tried to contact Florida prosecutors on his own, according to his former attorneys. He has called Fox News talk-show host Sean Hannity, they said, without consulting them as to whether media exposure would be good for him at this time.
Mr. Hannity on Tuesday confirmed that he had spoken with Zimmerman, adding that the conversation was off the record.
“He reached out to me. We spoke on the phone about his case, and I agreed not to report on the contents of that conversation. That’s it. I know nothing about his relationship with his now-former attorneys,” Hannity said.
Without his ex-attorneys' knowledge, Zimmerman has also set up a website on which he solicits funds for his support and legal expenses. The site, therealgeorgezimmerman.com, contains little but quotes from famous authors superimposed on an American flag, plus a PayPal link for donations.
Added together, the events seemed to indicate a deepening oddness in a case that has riveted America. Former FBI official John Miller, now a CBS correspondent, noted on Wednesday that the Trayvon/Zimmerman affair has become something of a “perfect storm of insanity,” with attorneys dropping clients on national television, a bounty placed on Zimmerman’s head by the fringe hate group the New Black Panthers, bits of evidence discussed endlessly in the media, and so on.
Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey has said she will release new information about the case within days, noted Mr. Miller, but it’s not clear what that information will be or whether prosecutors themselves know Zimmerman’s whereabouts.
The admissions of Zimmerman’s ex-attorneys have undoubtedly set wheels turning in the special prosecutor’s office, Miller said, with her ordering that Zimmerman be found and watched, if his location is in fact unknown.
“That throws a big complication in there.... It’s entirely uncertain to me that they do know where he is,” said Miller.