Judge orders Zimmerman back to jail

Prosecutors say Zimmerman and his wife misled the judge during an April bond hearing about how much money they had access to.

06/01/2012 5:00 AM

06/01/2012 6:24 PM

George Zimmerman was ordered back to jail on Friday for misleading the court at his bond hearing about his finances.

Seminole County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Lester revoked the bail for Zimmerman — who is facing a second-degree murder charge in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin of Miami Gardens — after finding that Zimmerman and his wife concealed their access to a $200,000 account during a bail hearing in April.

Zimmerman, who was not present at Friday’s hearing, now must surrender to Seminole County sheriff’s deputies by Sunday afternoon.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, is accused of chasing down Trayvon in his gated community in Sanford and then shooting him after a scuffle on Feb. 26. Prosecutors argue that Zimmerman went after Trayvon, who was walking to his father’s apartment, because he wrongly assumed the teen was about to commit a crime. Zimmerman told police he acted in self-defense, after Trayvon attacked him and slammed his head on the sidewalk.

Zimmerman, 28, was charged with second-degree murder in April by a special prosecutor after weeks of public outcry. In the days before Zimmerman’s arrest, a website was set up in his name proclaiming his innocence and soliciting donations for his defense. The PayPal account from the website collected $204,000.

Prosecutors said they have recordings of phone conversations between Zimmerman and his wife while Zimmerman was in jail in which the couple discussed moving money from the PayPal account to the accounts of Zimmerman and his wife, Shellie.

During a later bail hearing, Shellie Zimmerman said she was unaware of any money available for her husband’s bail. When prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda asked how much money was in the PayPal account, she said she didn’t know.

In fact, prosecutors said, the couple had access to as much as $135,000 at the time. Based in part on the testimony that Zimmerman was indigent, the judge agreed to release Zimmerman on $150,000 bail.

“The defendant’s wife lied to this court,” de la Rionda said at Friday’s hearing. Zimmerman, he added, “just sat there as his wife lied under oath.”

The prosecutor also said Zimmerman misled his lawyer, Mark O’Mara, who was unaware of the PayPal account at the time of the bond hearing.

Judge Lester reached the same conclusion, revoking Zimmerman’s bond on the grounds that he was not truthful during the bond hearing. The judge also said he was surprised that prosecutors had not brought charges against Zimmerman’s wife.

O’Mara said after the hearing that Zimmerman did not deliberately mislead the court, and emphasized that Zimmerman did not do anything inappropriate with the money, which is now controlled by the attorney.

“The judge doesn’t think they were being as straight-forward as they should,” O’Mara said at a press conference after the hearing. “If deception was their intent, why disclose to me and why forward the funds to me?”

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Trayvon’s family, said the bail dispute raises important questions about Zimmerman’s credibility — and about Zimmerman’s version of events on the night of the killing.

“Credibility is the issue,” Crump said. “We think this was the most important ruling in this entire case.”

Prosecutors also accused Zimmerman of failing to turn over a second passport he owns as a condition of his bail. O’Mara said Zimmerman had lost his passport several years ago and obtained a new one, only to later discover the original passport when moving recently. Once he discovered the original passport, Zimmerman gave it to his lawyer. The judge sided with the defense and found that Zimmerman did not deliberately hide the second passport.

Also on Friday, Judge Lester said he would grant in large part the requests of The Miami Herald and other media organizations to make public more of the evidence gathered in the case and now kept under seal.

Last month, prosecutors released much of the witness statements and other evidence in the case, but withheld some key materials, including the names of witnesses and transcripts of statements Zimmerman gave to investigators.

Prosecutors argued that Zimmerman’s statements to police amounted to confessions, which are exempt from public-records law. But the judge said Zimmerman’s statements would likely bolster Zimmerman’s defense.

Lester said he would spend the next 30 days reviewing the material before deciding what should be released and what, if anything, must be withheld to ensure a fair trial for Zimmerman.

De la Rionda and O’Mara argued that witness names should be withheld to protect them from potential threats in the high-profile case, and that the release of other information could fuel the hothouse atmosphere of the case and prevent Zimmerman from getting a fair trial.

But the judge said he expected about 90 percent of the information requested by the media would be released — though he’s not pleased about it.

“The law basically favors full, complete and open disclosures,” the judge said. “It’s the law that we’re stuck with, unfortunately.”

Miami Herald staff writer Frances Robles contributed to this story.

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