Judge sets George Zimmerman’s bail at $1 million

By Rene Stutzman, The Orlando Sentinel
Posted July 05, 2012, at 10:19 p.m.

SANFORD, Fla. – A judge Thursday ordered George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, released on $1 million bail but called the defendant a manipulator and said it appeared that he had been preparing to flee the country.

It was not clear how long it would take Zimmerman to arrange his release.

He has enough money. In a blog post Thursday evening, defense attorney Mark O’Mara wrote that he would be working to free Zimmerman over the next several hours and would dip deeply into a legal defense fund that has a balance of $211,000, more than enough to cover the 10-percent nonrefundable portion charged by most bonding companies.

Where Zimmerman will go also is not clear. This time, Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. banned him from leaving Seminole County without his permission.

Last time, the judge was more liberal, allowing him to live out of state at a secret location so long as he kept in touch with Seminole County probation officers who knew his whereabouts, monitored his movements via satellite and with phone checks every three days.

Zimmerman is not a threat to the community, the judge wrote, nor are pro-Martin protesters a threat to him.

“All demonstrations to this point have been non-violent and peaceful,” the judge wrote.

Zimmerman, is charged with second-degree murder in Martin’s death. He killed the black, unarmed 17-year-old Feb. 26. Zimmerman, 28, says he acted in self-defense.

The judge worked during his off hours to get Zimmerman’s bond order done shortly before lunch Thursday. Its tone was one of moral indignation.

“By any definition, the defendant has flouted the system,” Lester wrote. “It appears to this court that the defendant is manipulating the system for his own benefit.”

The defendant had been free on $150,000 bond for five weeks when Lester ordered him back to the Seminole County Jail, because Zimmerman’s wife had testified under oath that the couple was nearly destitute when bank records showed that money was pouring in from a support-George-Zimmerman website at the rate of $1,000 a day.

On the day Shellie Zimmerman testified that the couple was broke, she and her husband had access to $130,000, a defense financial expert testified Friday.

In his order, the judge accused Zimmerman of committing a new felony — lying while providing evidence about bail — and hinted that he might be the subject of “future contempt proceedings.”

Lester was troubled, he wrote, that Zimmerman and his wife hid the money and that George Zimmerman had, until recently, a second, undisclosed passport.

Those things, to him, meant the couple was preparing to flee the country.

“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,” the judge wrote.

Lester wrote that he is unhappy that no one offered any testimony to explain why Shellie Zimmerman said what she did at that April 20 bond hearing, why her husband did nothing to correct her and why they were moving money from account to account and making big cash withdrawals in the first place.

He accused Zimmerman of lying to not just to him, but also to O’Mara, who early on told the judge he would represent the defendant free and would ask for public money to pay expenses, such as for experts and an investigator, because his client was indigent.

In a blog posting Thursday, O’Mara pleaded for more donations, saying the new bond, plus $40,000 in unpaid legal expenses and future needs would effectively wipe out the legal defense fund.

He, his partner Lorna Truett and co-counsel Don West have not been paid, he wrote.

When the judge originally released Zimmerman on bond in April, Benjamin Crump, attorney for Martin’s parents, said they were devastated. In a prepared statement Thursday, he was more subdued.

“Trayvon’s parents would rather that the killer of their child remain in jail until trial, however they respect the ruling of the court and the strong message this judge sent that deference to judicial integrity is paramount to all court proceedings,” it said.

Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda had asked Lester to keep Zimmerman jailed on no bond. He killed an innocent teenager, de la Rionda argued, then made matters worse by working with his wife to transfer money between accounts and hide it.

But O’Mara argued that it would be wrong to keep Zimmerman locked up, especially because he has a strong self-defense claim.

The judge’s ruling, however, made it clear that guilt or innocence was not the issue of the day. Lester reviewed the evidence O’Mara submitted at Friday’s hearing, he wrote, but made no comment about the strength or weakness of the state’s case.

The criminal case, the judge wrote, will live or die on “the defendant’s self-defense/Stand Your Ground claim.”

That’s a reference to a Florida law that allows someone to use deadly force if he has a reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily injury.

In his order, the judge banned Zimmerman from having or opening a bank account, and he again ordered the defendant to wear a global-positioning monitoring device.

The night of the shooting, Zimmerman told authorities that after calling police and reporting Martin as a suspicious person, he lost sight of him and turned to walk back to his truck when the teenager punched him, knocked him to the ground then began banging his head into a sidewalk.

©2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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