Judge weighing whether to give Zimmerman bond
SANFORD, Fla. – A bond hearing took more a tone of a trial Friday when both sides in the Trayvon Martin murder case presented what sounded like opening statements with the defense quizzing witnesses and trying to poke holes in the prosecution's evidence.
Former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, 28, has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge in the shooting death of the unarmed 17-year-old in February. He is in jail after a judge revoked his $150,000 bond because he ruled Zimmerman and his wife lied about their finances.
He's asking the same judge to again let him out on bail, and during a second lengthy hearing, Zimmerman's lawyer sparred with prosecutors over those finances and questioned why his client is in jail at all, arguing that Martin's actions led to his death. It concluded with the judge saying he would need more time to decide whether to grant Zimmerman bail again.
It was the latest in what will certainly be a string of mini-trials going forward as Zimmerman's attorneys try to rehabilitate his credibility. In a case where he's claiming protection under Florida's "stand your ground" self-defense law, his believability will be at the heart of the case. Defense attorney Mark O'Mara ultimately decided against calling his client to the stand Friday, unlike the first bond hearing in which Zimmerman apologized to Martin's family.
He did call Zimmerman's father to testify, and played a chilling 911 call from the Feb. 26 night when Martin was killed. A call that includes a disputed cry for help and the fatal gunshot. Robert Zimmerman said he was sure that was his son's cry.
"This prosecutor has made a very specific showing that this case is strong," O'Mara said. "It was important for us to counter that."
Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester trudged through it all, and now has to go over eight to 10 hours of evidence submitted by the defense.
Randy McClean, a defense attorney based in the Orlando area, said though he thinks there was definite gamesmanship going on, there was purpose in using Friday as "a litmus test for the court of public opinion."
"I think it's less testing the judge. The judge is going to rule on issues of law," McClean said. "I think this is a case where Mark doesn't have a lot to lose by putting forth this testimony. He is promoting his defense in the public...The jury pool is going to come from the public. I think it could be effective."
Whatever the defense's strategy, Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump said they hope the judge will see past it as the case progresses.
"I do think O'Mara was trying to try the case, and the judge was like 'This is a bond hearing,'" Crump told The Associated Press. "I think that he understands that Zimmerman's credibility has taken a severe hit and that at the end of the day, America isn't going to forget that he lied to the court."
Martin's parents and supporters maintain the teen was targeted because he was black and that Zimmerman started the confrontation that led to the shooting. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
"We just feel as though he didn't instigate anything," said Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father, after the hearing "He was just walking from the store. If there is something wrong with that, we are all guilty."
Lester revoked Zimmerman's bond earlier this month. Prosecutors said a website Zimmerman created for his legal defense had raised $135,000 at the time of his first bond hearing in April, and Zimmerman and his wife did not mention the money then.
Much of the second hearing focused on the donations raised through a PayPal account and how it was repeatedly transferred between bank accounts Zimmerman and his wife controlled.
"It was done to hide the money so they could deceive the court, lie to the court. Mrs. Zimmerman lied to the court and this defendant just sat there and let it happen," prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda said.
O'Mara countered that "it is not the grand conspiracy the state seems to suggest."
There was also a great deal of evidence and testimony about the head injuries Zimmerman suffered the night of the fight with Martin, including a broken nose and cuts on his skull. Zimmerman was also described by a probation officer as a "model client" who had not violated any of his previous bond conditions.
Attorneys for Zimmerman called prosecutors' case weak and said he gave 11 voluntary statements to police and re-enacted the shooting with authorities.
Prosecutors argued they had evidence that Zimmerman was the aggressor and chased Martin, who they said started the fight in self-defense.
However, the judge for now is not ruling on the merits of the case. Instead, he was focused on what happened at the previous bond hearing.
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.
Associated Press writers Mike Schneider in Orlando and Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.
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