SANFORD -- George Zimmerman was 28, banished from his home by throngs of angry activists and facing life in prison. He was afraid he’d never get to stroll the streets again for fear of getting shot.
That’s why, his defense lawyer said Friday, Zimmerman concealed the small fortune he amassed in the wake of the killing of an unarmed teenager, and why a judge should let him out on bond.
But prosecutors see it like this: George Zimmerman is a murderer with a cop complex who profiled and killed an innocent kid, and then scammed the court in hopes of keeping for himself the $205,000 donated by strangers around the world. For that, Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda said, Zimmerman should cool his heels in jail until he is either exonerated or found guilty of the second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin.
The neighborhood watch volunteer shot a boy and then made more money in 11 days, from supporters around the country, than he would have earned in years. Now he’s in jail, hoping Seminole Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester is swayed by the details of his injuries suffered during his struggle with Trayvon and comes back Monday with a decision in his favor.
Lester listened to nearly three hours of arguments and testimony Friday in a bail hearing for Zimmerman, but didn’t issue an immediate ruling. It’s the second time a bond hearing was held in the case: The judge revoked the first $150,000 bond after when he learned that Zimmerman had covered up a large amount of money raised via the online payment site PayPal.
In a sharp contrast to the prior bail hearing, Friday’s court session was conducted like an Arthur hearing, a special bond hearing for serious felonies where both sides present evidence to demonstrate the strength — or weakness — of the case.
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara insisted that the seriously wounded Zimmerman wasn’t trying to hoard cash and “skedaddle” when he kept information about the PayPal money from the court. O’Mara asked Lester to set the bond again at $150,000, for the simple reason that Zimmerman may never be found guilty at all.
O’Mara essentially conducted a mini-trial, presenting a paramedic, Zimmerman’s dad, medical records, witness statements and a videotape of his client show that the case boils down to self defense. He asked permission for Zimmerman to speak only to the judge — without being cross examined — but Lester quashed the suggestion.
Zimmerman is charged with the Feb. 26 killing of Trayvon, a 17-year-old who had been suspended from Michael Krop Senior High after getting caught with marijuana residue and a pipe.
The two ran into each other at Zimmerman’s Sanford townhouse complex that night as the teen walked home from the store, and Zimmerman headed to Target in his truck. Zimmerman thought Trayvon looked suspicious and got out of his car as he gave particulars to the police by phone.
Minutes later, Zimmerman has said Trayvon decked him in the face and pummeled him on the ground, forcing him to shoot the teen to protect his life.
“If Mr. Martin was shot, it’s because he had broken someone’s nose and smashed someone’s head on the cement walkway at least two times,” O’Mara said. “The strength of the state’s case for second-degree murder is something you need to take apart.”
A paramedic testified that 45 percent of Zimmerman’s face and head were covered in blood that night, and his nose definitely looked deformed and broken.
To underscore the difference in the severity of injuries, the prosecutor asked him what the other person’s wounds were. Trayvon, the paramedic said, died of a gunshot.
De la Rionda urged the judge not to be distracted by elements of the crime that will be disputed later in court, and to focus instead on the deception that took place at Zimmerman’s initial bond hearing on April 20. Prosecutors presented evidence that suggested Zimmerman was in a frantic quest to get all the money out of his name prior to that hearing.
“An egregious set of facts makes this a more disturbing incident — or crime,” de la Rionda said.
De la Rionda handily discredited the testimony of a forensic accountant the defense hired to show that all the funds raised were transferred back and forth between Zimmerman, his wife and sister — and much of it liquidated to cash — and that all of it is accounted for.
De la Rionda got the accountant to admit that he did not track the PayPal funds once they reached Zimmerman’s sister and he did not know that some cash was stashed in safety deposit boxes. And the accountant, Adam Magill, readily admitted that if someone refers to $9,000 as $9, they are probably speaking in code.
Jail calls between Zimmerman and his wife, released to the public in the past couple of weeks, show that Zimmerman spoke that way when he talked to his wife on the phone.
Zimmerman’s wife was charged with perjury for lying at the April bond hearing, and she faces a potential prison term of her own. Because of her pending charge, she did not take the stand Friday, O’Mara said.
Magill also acknowledged that the reason someone would transfer so much money out of their bank would be so they could appear penniless.
“I wouldn’t say it was to mislead,” Magill said. “I would say it was to look like he didn’t have the money.”
He said Zimmerman paid off $11,000 in debt, spent “just shy” of $13,000, and another $13,000 remains in cash. Magill said that although most of the transfers were under $10,000, that was to comply with PayPal rules, not to get around banking standards that require banks to inform the federal government of cash deposits $10,000 or larger.
O’Mara seemed determined to stress that none of the money was lost, while the prosecutor was equally eager to emphasize that all of the money was transferred out of Zimmerman’s name.
O’Mara repeatedly noted that Zimmerman turned all the money over to his attorney just four days after the first bond hearing. He admitted to reporters that Zimmerman was trying to hide the money “from everybody.”
Zimmerman, O’Mara said, was scared because he had cooperated fully by offering 11 statements to police, taking two lie-detector tests, a voice stress test and a voice comparison — only to find himself arrested on a charge that carries a possible life sentence.
“You should be more concerned if we had found out two months later when he’s driving around in a new Corvette,” he told the judge. “It’s not a great conspiracy… It just wasn’t. He made amends four days later.”
Zimmerman shouldn’t be held in jail for mistrusting the judge, O’Mara said.
The judge seemed skeptical: “It’s not what he did to me,” Lester said. “It’s the court, it’s the system, the process.”
The bond hearing was the first time members of Zimmerman’s family were seen in public. His brother Robert sat in the audience wearing a bulletproof vest. O’Mara called Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman Sr., to the stand to identify screams heard on 911 recordings as coming from his son during the struggle with Trayvon.
“It was absolutely George’s” voice screaming on the tape, his father testified, saying he had heard his son yell “many times” before.
De la Rionda asked how his son could have been screaming for help if, as Zimmerman told police, Trayvon had his hand over his mouth and nose.
“From the extent of my son’s injuries,” Robert Zimmerman Sr. said, “Trayvon Martin’s hands were not just on his nose and mouth.”
Both lawyers agreed that there are several inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s various statements to police.
Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and brother Jahvaris Fulton stepped out when the tape was first played, but returned and listened when it was played a second time. Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, just shook his head.
“Tracy and Sybrina have always said they want the killer of their child to remain in jail until the trial,” their lawyer, Benjamin Crump, said. “Our position is: Just because you claim to be scared and confused, that’s still no justification for lying to the court. What kind of message does that send?”