George Zimmerman’s bond was set at $1 million (U.S.), and he was ordered to remain in Seminole County, Fla., while he awaits his murder trial, a judge ruled Thursday.
Zimmerman, Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester said, “flaunted the system,” and appeared to be getting ready to flee with the “found money” he raised through online donations.
Zimmerman is charged with the Feb. 26 killing of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin.
“It appears to this court that … the money only had to be hidden for a short time for him to leave, if the defendant made a quick decision to flee,” Lester wrote. The defense attorney Mark O’Mara “presented no evidence to negate the court’s impression that the movement of funds and false testimony was to aid and assist the defendant in fleeing the jurisdiction.”
He said it looked to him that the only reason Zimmerman didn’t make a run for it was because he was tethered to an electronic monitoring device. His plans, Lester said, “were thwarted.”
“The increased bond is not a punishment,” Lester added. “It is meant to allay the court’s concern that the defendant intended to flee the jurisdiction and a lesser amount would not ensure his presence in court.”
Zimmerman had been free on $150,000 bail, but he was sent back to jail last month after his attorney revealed that the defendant had “misinformed” the court about how much money he had. That misrepresentation, the judge said, could be interpreted as a third-degree felony but he has not been charged.
“The state would more accurately describe it as—lied to,” Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda wrote in a motion last week to judge Lester.
Prosecutors provided bank records that showed that on April 20, the day of Zimmerman’s original bond hearing, he had $135,000 cash at his disposal, even as his family professed to be broke. Taped jailhouse phone calls between him and his wife showed he had instructed her to transfer money he had raised online out of his bank account into hers.
“Even though the defendant was in jail at the time, he was intimately involved in the deposit and transfer of money into various accounts,” de la Rionda wrote. “Defendant was directing the show and used his wife who willingly participated to complete the transfers. The state would argue the defendant didn’t just play a part. He was in control at all times and used his wife as a conduit to deceive the court.”
At the April 20 hearing, Shellie Zimmerman said under oath that she did not know how much money they had raised and had no assets. She has since been charged with perjury.
Prosecutors also said the taped calls show the couple talking about the whereabouts of Zimmerman’s second passport.
Lester revoked Zimmerman’s bond on June 1, and then the defense attorney requested another hearing.
In a three-hour hearing June 29, Zimmerman’s attorney argued that his client allowed the lie because he was confused and scared.
O’Mara presented videos, statements, a paramedic and medical records to show that his client likely would be exonerated of the second-degree murder charge. If Zimmerman never gets convicted of murder, O’Mara argued, it is unfair for him to spend a year in jail pending trial.
He had asked the court to again set bond at $150,000.
“As part of the defense team’s presentation on the Motion to Set Reasonable Bond, evidence was introduced to the court to show the weaknesses in the State’s murder case against Mr. Zimmerman and to support Mr. Zimmerman’s consistently maintained position that he acted in self defense,” O’Mara wrote on his website. “Further, we submitted evidence through the testimony of a forensic expert verifying that all the money in question has been properly accounted for.”
In his ruling, Lester dismissed O’Mara’s presentation as largely irrelevant. The three hours of testimony from a forensic accountant, a paramedic and others failed to explain why Zimmerman shifted funds around, the judge said.
He added that he could no longer consider Zimmerman’s “family ties” as a positive factor, as his family now showed it was willing to lie in court or allow a lie to stand without reporting the fraud. The bond needed to be set high, he said, because Zimmerman’s loss of money he never earned or saved would be of little consequence to him.
Trayvon and Zimmerman got into a physical altercation after the former neighborhood watch volunteer tailed the teen to see where he was headed. Zimmerman maintains that Trayvon broke his nose and slammed his head on the concrete, and that he was forced to shoot to save his life.
Prosecutors believe Zimmerman recklessly hunted the boy down because he had wrongly profiled Trayvon as a criminal.
Earlier Friday, prosecutors asked a judge to revoke the bond of the neighbourhood watch volunteer.
Prosecutors said in a motion that 28-year-old Mr. Zimmerman and his family misled them about his finances when testifying during a bail hearing that allowed him to be released from jail on a $150,000 bond. Prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda asked for the revocation during a hearing to help determine if prosecutors and the defence can stop the public release of certain documents in the case.
During the bond hearing in April, Mr. Zimmerman’s relatives testified they had limited funds. Mr. Zimmerman’s attorney said several days later that he had discovered his client had raised more than $200,000 from a website. At the time of the hearing, about $135,000 had been raised, and that money wasn’t disclosed at the bond hearing.
“This court was led to believe they didn’t have a single penny,” said Prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda. “It was misleading and I don’t know what words to use other than it was a blatant lie.”
Defence attorney Mark O’Mara said it was an innocent misunderstanding and that Mr. Zimmerman wasn’t using that money for his expenses and wasn’t sure what he could use the money for. He said Mr. Zimmerman used the houses of his parents and grandmother as collateral for the bond.
Prosecutors also said in the motion that Mr. Zimmerman didn’t disclose he had a second passport. Mr. Zimmerman turned his passport over to the court at the bond hearing as a measure that would prevent him from fleeing the country.
Mr. Zimmerman is pleading not guilty to second-degree murder and claims self-defence. Mr. Zimmerman shot Mr. Martin last February during a confrontation at a gated community of townhouses in Sanford, Fla., where Mr. Zimmerman lived and where Mr. Martin was visiting his father’s fiancée.
The delay in an arrest for 44 days prompted protests nationwide and led to Sanford’s police chief stepping aside so emotions could cool down.
At Friday’s hearing, Mr. De la Rionda and Mr. O’Mara also asked a judge to stop the public release of witness names and statements made by Mr. Zimmerman to police officers. Those documents normally are part of the public record under Florida law.
“What’s occurring, unfortunately, are cases are being tried in the public sector as opposed to in the courtroom,” Mr. De La Rionda told Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester. “We are in a new age with Twitter, Facebook, and all these things I’ve never heard of before in my career. Everybody gets to find out intimate details about witnesses that never occurred before. Witnesses are going to be reluctant to get involved.”
A consortium of more than a dozen media groups, including The Associated Press, asked the judge to ignore the request, saying such records are presumed to be publicly available under Florida law.
Rachel Fugate, an attorney for the Orlando Sentinel, cited the Casey Anthony trial as an example of a highly publicized case in which a jury was able to be seated despite intense media coverage. The Florida mother was acquitted last year of killing her 2-year-old daughter.
“Discovery in Florida has traditionally been open … and Florida hasn’t encountered problems seating juries and giving defendants fair trials,” Ms. Fugate said.
Mr. O’Mara said Friday on a website that he doesn’t expect the case to be ready for trial until next year.
Mr. O’Mara said he expects to call on 50 witnesses who need to be deposed before he decides whether to file a “stand your ground” motion which would ask for a hearing before a judge without a jury. At the hearing, Mr. Zimmerman would argue self-defence under the Florida law which 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.