After seeing public opinion gradually swing his way over the events of Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., George Zimmerman’s already tentative credibility took a hit as Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Lester ordered him back to jail for lying at his bond hearing in late April.
Accused of murdering unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, Mr. Zimmerman had posted a $150,000 bond in April after declaring, through his lawyer, that he was out of work and basically indigent. His parents, too, said they had little money.
But a few days later, Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, told Judge Lester that Zimmerman’s financial situation wasn’t as dire, as he had raised nearly $200,000 through his “The Real George Zimmerman” website.
While Mr. O’Mara pointed to the discrepancy as an innocent mistake, prosecutor Bernie De La Rionda pounced on the misdirection on Friday, saying it – together with Zimmerman’s failure to tell the court about a second passport in his possession – was evidence that he deserves to await trial in a jail cell.
“I don’t know what other words to use [about how much money Zimmerman had] besides that it was a blatant lie,” Mr. De La Rionda said.
O’Mara on Friday argued there was “no deceit” involved since the pair did not use the money for anything.
In revoking the bond, Judge Lester said Zimmerman, who is currently in hiding, shouldn’t be able to benefit from “material falsehoods.” The judge also immediately placed Zimmerman under a “no bond” status, meaning he’ll likely spend the rest of his time awaiting trial in a Seminole County jail cell. The judge gave Zimmerman 48 hours to report to jail.
As prosecutors released nearly all their evidence in the case to the public last month, it increasingly appeared like Zimmerman’s original statement – that he shot Trayvon after fearing for his life as the boy pummeled him – had credence. Medical statements showed he had a broken nose and cuts on the back of his head, and several witnesses corroborated that Zimmerman was on the receiving end of a beating after getting out of his car to follow Trayvon.
Prosecutors say Zimmerman is culpable because he “profiled” the boy as a criminal, ignored a dispatcher’s warning about following Trayvon, and then “confronted” him. While the state’s Stand Your Ground law allows people to defend themselves with lethal force in public areas, it does not protect those who instigate a fight.
Some legal experts, including Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz, have accused chief prosecutor Angela Corey of folding under public pressure to charge Zimmerman with second degree murder, arguing there’s not enough evidence to support the charges. It’s a notion Ms. Corey has denied.
But having the judge in essence calling Zimmerman a liar before he even has a chance to take the stand in his defense may dramatically change the tenor and perception of the case by boosting the prosecution’s contention that Zimmerman is not a trustworthy person. Because Zimmerman is the only living witness to the exact events of that night, a jury will have to weigh his credibility as he defends himself against a crime that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
During the hearing, prosecutors introduced several recordings of telephone conversations between Zimmerman and his wife, Shellie, made while he was in jail. In one such recording, they can be heard speaking cryptically about a second passport in his possession. Zimmerman was ordered by the judge to hand over his passport so he couldn’t flee the country, but Zimmerman applied for a second passport after the shooting, saying his first one had been stolen.
In other recordings Zimmerman’s wife, who testified at his bond hearing, called him from a credit union where she had an account linked to the “Real George Zimmerman” Pay Pal account, which at the time had about $130,000 in it. Prosecutors contend that she was “intimately involved in the deposit and transfer of funds and money into various accounts.”
Also at Friday's hearing, news organizations appeared before the judge to argue for access to witness names and Zimmerman's statements to police officers. The names and statements are considered public records under Florida law, but both Zimmerman's counsel and the prosecutors have asked the court to seal the information. The records reportedly show Zimmerman making inconsistent statements about the night he shot Trayvon.