SANFORD, Fla. The credibility of Trayvon Martins shooter could be an issue at trial after a judge said that George Zimmerman and his wife lied to the court about their finances to obtain a bond, legal experts say.
Thats because the case hinges on jurors believing his account of what happened the night the 17-year-old was killed. Zimmerman wasnt charged in the case until more than a month after the shooting, saying he shot Martin in self-defense under Floridas so-called stand-your-ground law. Protests were held across the nation, and the case spurred debate about race. Martin was black; Zimmermans father is white and his mother is from Peru.
The questioning of Zimmermans truthfulness by the judge on Friday could undermine his credibility if it is brought up at trial. It also may complicate how his defense presents him as a witness, said Orlando-area attorney Randy McClean, who is a former prosecutor.
The other key witness, unfortunately, is deceased, McClean said. Basically, Zimmerman is going to be asking the jury to believe his version of the facts. ... As the case stands now, his credibility is absolutely critical to the case.
Zimmerman had not yet turned himself in Saturday after having his bond revoked a day earlier. He must do so by today. Zimmerman went into hiding in the weeks after the shooting because of the tense debate surrounding the case, and his exact whereabouts since he bonded out of jail remain unclear. It also was not immediately clear exactly where Zimmerman would surrender.
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder for the February shooting. The neighborhood watch volunteer says he shot Martin in self-defense because the unarmed 17-year-old was beating him up after confronting Zimmerman about following him in a gated community outside Orlando.
Witness accounts of the rainy night Martin was shot are spotty. There is no video of the fight, though photos prosecutors have released showed Zimmerman with wounds to his face and the back of his head.
Zimmermans credibility would be important if OMara tries to get a judge without the jury to dismiss the charges based on the law, said Orlando defense attorney David Hill.
If he was in on something that was not truthfully revealed to the judge, when there is a stand your ground hearing, of course youre going to second-guess him, Hill said.
Both McClean and Hill said OMara would be able to challenge the admissibility of the bond revocation at trial by questioning its relevance.
Zimmerman was arrested 44 days after the killing, and during a bond hearing in April, his wife, Shellie, testified that the couple had limited funds available. The hearing also was notable because Zimmerman took the stand and apologized to Martins parents.
Prosecutors pointed out in their motion that Zimmerman had $135,000 available then. It had been raised from donations through a website he set up, and they suggested more has been collected since and deposited in a bank account.
Shellie Zimmerman was asked about the website at the hearing, but she said she didnt know how much money had been raised. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester set bail at $150,000. The 28-year-old was freed a few days later after posting $15,000 in cash which is typical and has since been in hiding.
Prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda complained Friday, This court was led to believe they didnt have a single penny. It was misleading and I dont know what words to use other than it was a blatant lie. The judge agreed and ordered Zimmerman returned to jail by Sunday afternoon.
Does your client get to sit there like a potted plant and lead the court down the primrose path? Thats the issue, Lester said. He cant sit back and obtain the benefit of a lower bond based upon those material falsehoods.
The defense countered that Zimmerman and his wife never used the money for anything, which indicated there was no deceit. His attorney, Mark OMara, said it wouldnt be a problem to bring Zimmerman back into custody by the deadline.
The judge said he would schedule a hearing after Zimmerman is back in custody so he could explain himself.
Police in Sanford did not immediately arrest Zimmerman, citing Floridas stand your ground law that 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.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Trayvon Martins parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, said his clients have always said Zimmerman should remain in jail until trial, which OMara said he believed wouldnt be until next year.
Crump was asked if he thought that if Zimmerman would be willing to lie about his finances that he would be willing to lie about what happen the night Martin was killed.
We fully expect that the special prosecutor will make George Zimmermans credibility be front and center in this entire case, Crump said. And whatever dishonesty that comes forth by George Zimmerman that they can prove, you can best believe it will become the issue of this case.
The revocation of Zimmermans bond also puts pressure on OMara to not delay the trial, McClean said.
When your client is out on bond, the pressure is much lighter to rush to trial ... because your client is sitting at home, he said. When your client is sitting at the Seminole County Jail, your client is going to want this resolved.