Judge hears arguments at Zimmerman bond hearing
SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Prosecutors and a lawyer for the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Trayvon Martin wrangled Friday over the money George Zimmerman received after he was charged with second-degree murder.
Zimmerman’s attorney called an expert on finances to testify Friday at Zimmerman’s bond hearing. Attorney Mark O’Mara was trying to show that Zimmerman and his wife did not try to hide anything when they moved money from a PayPal account to their family accounts.
“All the ends and outs match perfectly,” said Adam Magill, a financial forensic specialist.
But Magill also testified that moving the money around from different accounts would “make it appear that you didn’t have the money.”
The hearing was still ongoing late Friday morning.
Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester revoked Zimmerman’s $150,000 bond earlier this month when prosecutors told the judge Zimmerman and his wife misled the court about how much money they had during the April bond hearing.
Prosecutors said a website Zimmerman created for his legal defense had raised $135,000 at the time of his first bond hearing. Zimmerman and his wife did not mention the money then.
Prosecutors also said the couple talked in code during recorded jailhouse conversations about how to transfer the donations to different bank accounts. At one point, George Zimmerman asked how much money they had. She replied “$155.” Prosecutors allege that was code for $155,000. Their reference to “Peter Pan” was code for the PayPal system through which the donations were made, prosecutors said.
Shellie Zimmerman has since been charged with perjury. She is out of jail on $1,000 bond and her arraignment is set for July 31.
Zimmerman’s defense also played videos of Zimmerman talking and showing his injuries after the shooting. Attorneys then spent time questioning Kevin O’Rourke, a Sanford firefighter and emergency medical technician who responded to the shooting scene. Attorneys asked questions about the extent of Zimmerman’s injuries, particularly how much blood was on his head and face.
“A good 45 percent of his head and face were covered with blood,” O’Rourke said.
Legal experts say Zimmerman needs a good explanation to persuade the judge to let him out of jail again while he awaits trial.
“If his explanation is really weak … I think Lester could keep him in jail,” said Randy McClean, an Orlando-area defense attorney who is following the case. “If he really comes across as being genuine and has a reasonable explanation, because I don’t see how it could be a great explanation, then I think Lester will probably pump up the conditions, up his monetary conditions and let him back on bond.”
Working in Zimmerman’s favor, the judge has said, is he turned himself in when charges were filed and kept law enforcement informed of his location when he went into hiding because of threats against him and his family. Weighing against him is the seriousness of the charge as well as other brushes with the law, including an arrest for resisting an undercover officer.
Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting 17-year-old Martin on Feb. 26 at a gated apartment community in Sanford. Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty and claims the shooting was self-defense under the state’s “stand your ground” law.
Martin’s parents and supporters claim the teenager was targeted because he was black and Zimmerman started the confrontation that led to the shooting. Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
The 44 days between the shooting and Zimmerman’s arrest inspired nationwide protests, led to the departure of the Sanford police chief and prompted a U.S. Department of Justice probe.
Zimmerman’s attorney has argued in court papers that he is no threat to the public and proved he wasn’t a flight risk by returning to jail when his bond was revoked. O’Mara also argued that the bulk of the more than $200,000 raised by the website has now been turned over to a third-party administrator and Zimmerman has no control over the money.
Putting the money in a trust was smart because “now you can argue that the client does not have direct access to that money to flee the jurisdiction of the court,” said Blaine McChesney, an Orlando criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor.
Prosecutors have also argued Zimmerman had a second passport he didn’t tell the judge about, but the judge dismissed any worries about it, comparing it to when somebody loses a driver’s license, applies for another one and then finds the old license.
McChesney said there is a good chance the judge will deny bond, in part because of the jailhouse recordings about the money transfers.
“It shows a premeditated intent to hide that,” McChesney said.
The only witnesses O’Mara had listed before the hearing were two bail bondsmen. But at the last hearing, Zimmerman surprised many people by taking the stand himself and apologizing to Martin’s family.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.