George Zimmerman, the defendant in the Trayvon Martin murder case, pleaded for a second chance to be freed on bond at a Friday hearing that turned into “minitrial” featuring witnesses such as paramedics, forensic accountants, a probationer, and Mr. Zimmerman’s father.
Mr. Zimmerman had been previously freed on bond, but that was revoked earlier this month when Judge Kenneth Lester agreed that Zimmerman conspired with his wife to lie to the court about the couple’s finances.
Judge Lester left the second bond hearing Friday without making a decision, but undoubtedly with a clearer view of the looming legal confrontation over the controversial killing of an unarmed black teenager in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26.
Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda told the court that the state’s case will show that Zimmerman overstepped his authority as a citizen by profiling an innocent boy as a criminal, falsely acted as a police officer by pursuing him, and shot and killed Martin without sufficient evidence that his own life was actually in danger.
Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, introduced a 911 tape that includes a scream that Zimmerman’s father said was his son’s, medical records that show damage to Zimmerman’s face and head, and testimony from a paramedic who said blood covered nearly half of Zimmerman’s face on the night of the shooting. The evidence, Mr. O’Mara said, was intended to suggest that the state’s case for second-degree murder is so weak that it should play a role in whether the judge should further “punish” Zimmerman by letting him stay in jail until the trial.
“The strength of the state’s case for second-degree murder is something you need to take apart,” O’Mara told Lester.
At the heart of Lester’s looming decision is the extent to which Zimmerman’s credibility has been wrecked by his decision to conspire to deceive the court with his wife, who said on April 20 that the couple was basically penniless, even as they had been moving around $130,000 of donations from strangers in the days leading up to the bond hearing. At the time, Zimmerman sat stone-faced, “allowing a lie to stand,” O’Mara conceded.
In appealing for the second bond, O’Mara focused on a previous statement by the judge stating that there was a “strong case” for the second-degree murder charge. O’Mara said the state’s case is actually weak because, in his view, the preponderance of evidence points to a legitimate self-defense claim.
After breaking Zimmerman’s nose and allegedly hitting his head on a cement walkway at least twice, “then [Martin] got shot, and he was killed because of his own doing,” O’Mara said.
Mr. De la Rionda said he’ll be glad to challenge Zimmerman on the self-defense claim, because it requires Zimmerman has to take the stand to plead his case. “Our contention is that he’s the aggressor and the person who could claim self-defense is the victim, Trayvon Martin,” De la Rionda said.
In holding what he called a “minitrial” on Friday, O’Mara tried to sow additional doubt about the strength of the state’s case. At one point, he called as a witness a probation officer, Alex Vincent, who said Zimmerman was a “model client” while he was under state supervision after the first bond hearing.
The most dramatic moment came when Zimmerman’s father, Robert, took the stand and said the screaming voice on a 911 tape was “absolutely George’s.” Zimmerman noted that he had heard his son scream in a similar manner as a teenager, though not using the same words.
As that tape played in the courtroom, Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, shook his head.
The prosecutor pushed back, pointing out inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s story, the fact that his injuries weren’t so life-threatening as to require hospitalization, and, most critically, that the conspiracy to hide the true amount of the couple's finances raised critical questions about Zimmerman’s believability.
Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie Zimmerman, was arrested for perjury on June 12 for her statements to Lester, after jailhouse conversations that revealed the couple had used code to facilitate moving and hiding the money from a PayPal account.
“Mr. Zimmerman sat there and allowed [his wife to lie], manipulating the whole thing,” De la Rionda said. “They were lying to the court, and that is the most egregious part, and makes this an even more disturbing crime.”
Forensic accountant Adam Magill said that the couple had shifted about $132,000 from a PayPal account into four personal accounts to “make it appear that [they] didn’t have the money.”
O’Mara’s explanation focused on the idea that, at the time, Zimmerman had reasons to distrust a system that he had tried his best to assist through cooperation and openness.
“The point is he was attempting to trust the system, but then a prosecutor walks in from another county, moves in, charges him with second-degree murder, and now he’s facing a life sentence,” O’Mara said. At issue is “the lack of trust he may have had for a system that he only got involved in by being honest and straightforward. I don’t know what goes through a 28-year-old’s mind at that point. Yeah, he mistrusted you, he mistrusted the system, he allowed a lie to exist.”
If the judge agrees to a new bond, Zimmerman could leave jail as early as today. If not, he’d likely remain in jail until the trial, which is likely to happen next year.