The judge overseeing George Zimmerman’s murder trial wrote a stern eight-page order Thursday that set bail at $1 million and said the former neighborhood watch volunteer thumbed his nose at the judicial system as he plotted a life on the run.
Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester ordered Zimmerman to remain in Seminole County, doing away with the special perk that had allowed Zimmerman to await trial in hiding out of state before his initial bail was revoked. Lester said nothing in the defense team’s presentation in a three-hour hearing last week explained why someone would stash a second passport and $135,000 if it wasn’t to jump bail.
“Notably, together with the passport, the money only had to be hidden for a short time for him to leave the country if the defendant made a quick decision to flee,” Lester wrote. “It is entirely reasonable for this court to find that, but for the requirement that he be placed on electronic monitoring, the defendant and his wife would have fled the United States with at least $130,000 of other people’s money.”
He rejected the defense argument that Zimmerman, 28, was young and confused when he instructed his wife, in jailhouse phone conversations, to transfer all the funds he raised online out of his name and allowed her to lie about it under oath at his initial bond hearing.
“Trayvon Martin is the only male whose youth is relevant to this case,” Lester wrote.
Lester’s strong rebuke underscored the difficult road Zimmerman has ahead before this judge, legal experts said. It’s Lester who would decide in a “Stand Your Ground” hearing whether Zimmerman’s case should be tossed out on the basis of self-defense immunity. Zimmerman’s life is now in the hands of a judge who said the defendant “manipulated” and flouted the court.
“A witness’ credibility is everything, and the judge views everything Zimmerman says with a suspicious eye,” said Mark NeJame, an Orlando attorney and CNN analyst whom Zimmerman consulted before hiring his current lawyer, Mark O’Mara. “Now O’Mara is going to face the tough decision whether to ever put him on the stand again.”
The judge noted in his ruling that Zimmerman even lied to his attorney by suggesting he could not pay for his defense.
“I have had a lot of clients like that,” NeJame said. “Some I fired. Some I told over and over, like a mantra, ‘tell the truth.’ At the end of the day, I’m going home. If he insists on lying or being less than forthright, he may not.”
Zimmerman faces a second-degree murder trial for shooting Trayvon to death on Feb. 26. Zimmerman insists he shot the unarmed Miami Gardens teen in self defense after an unprovoked attack that cost him a broken nose.
Thousands of people around the country believe him and feel he was railroaded by the special prosecutor and the media. They donated more than $200,000 to his legal defense fund — money Zimmerman hid from the court at his initial bond hearing on April 20.
Several hours after the judge’s ruling Thursday, the defense attorney posted a public plea for more contributions. He said the gifts dwindled when Zimmerman was behind bars, because supporters feared the account would be wiped out.