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Answer coming soon in Trayvon Martin slaying

Lawyers Craig Sonner, left, and Hal Uhrig said Tuesday that they are concerned about George Zimmerman’s mental state.

Associated Press

Lawyers Craig Sonner, left, and Hal Uhrig said Tuesday that they are concerned about George Zimmerman’s mental state.

SANFORD — With prosecutors saying they will announce a decision in the Trayvon Martin case by Friday, George Zimmerman appears to have struck out on his own.

He launched a website without telling his attorneys, spoke to a talk show host and put in a call to the special prosecutor investigating him for the Feb. 26 shooting of Martin, an unarmed black teen.

After his lawyers lost contact with him for the past two days, they held a news conference late Tuesday afternoon and quit.

Hours later, special prosecutor Angela Corey said she would make an important announcement in the case in the next 72 hours.

"I'd have to count how many text messages I sent saying: 'Please call me. Please call me collect. Please text me. Please email me. Please, so we can go forward,' " one of the lawyers, Craig Sonner, said about his former client. "After I started getting calls from different people saying that he was giving statements to the media, calling the prosecutor's office and not calling me, that's when it started dawning on me that I wasn't the attorney of record anymore."

Martin's parents say they fear the man their lawyers call the "neighborhood watch loose cannon" will run. For the first time, Sonner and co-counsel Hal Uhrig acknowledged that Zimmerman is "far from Florida," but still inside the United States. "He is well hidden," Sonner said.

Corey, appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to investigate the case, is nearing a decision on whether to charge Zimmerman, 28, a former neighborhood watch captain, with a crime in Martin's death.

In her statement, Corey did not specify what new development would be released in the case that may test Florida's "stand your ground" law.

As tensions in Sanford heightened, Ben Crump, an attorney for Martin's family, said they are worried that Zimmerman might flee if he is charged.

"We're just concerned that nobody knows where he is at. Nobody knows how to get to him," Crump said.

The lawyers portrayed Zimmerman as erratic and his mental state as shaky, and they expressed fear for his health under the pressure that has been building since he shot and killed Martin in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated subdivision.

"He's gone on his own,'' Sonner said. "I'm not sure what he's doing or who he's talking to. I cannot go forward speaking to the public about George Zimmerman and this case as representing him because I've lost contact with him."

Sonner and Uhrig said they had not spoken with Zimmerman since Sunday. Since then, they said, they had learned that he spoke to Corey's office and to Fox TV host Sean Hannity without consulting them, in an attempt to give his side of the shooting. They said Corey, the prosecutor, refused to talk to Zimmerman without his attorneys' consent, and Hannity wouldn't tell them what was discussed.

Zimmerman also set up his own website even as the lawyers were creating one for him at his request. Zimmerman said on his website that he wants "to ensure my supporters they are receiving my full attention without any intermediaries." The site allows visitors to give Zimmerman money for living expenses and legal bills.

Sonner and Uhrig said that they still believe in Zimmerman's innocence and that they would probably represent him again if he contacted them and requested it. They said Zimmerman is in the United States but wouldn't say where because they fear for his safety.

They said Zimmerman has been under extreme pressure and is basically alone, having gone underground because of the furor.

"This has been a terribly corrosive process. George Zimmerman, in our opinion, and from information made available to us, is not doing well emotionally, probably suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. We understand from others that he may have lost a lot of weight," Uhrig said.

"To handle it this way suggests that he may not be in complete control of what's going on. We're concerned for his emotional and physical safety."

In a case that has stirred a furious national debate over racial profiling and self-defense, Zimmerman shot Martin after he spotted the teen walking through the gated community in Sanford.

Zimmerman said Martin attacked him, and he claimed self-defense under Florida's "stand your ground" law, which gives people wide leeway to use deadly force. Martin's family has said the evidence suggests Zimmerman was the aggressor.

Meanwhile, tensions were rising in Sanford as townspeople awaited the prosecutor's decision. Someone shot up an unoccupied police car Monday night as it sat outside the neighborhood where Martin was killed. A demonstration by college students closed the town's police station earlier in the day.

In finding criminal charges that can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, or deciding that Zimmerman's account of defending himself in the face of deadly force places him within the protections of the "stand your ground law," the prosecutor faces an exercise unlikely to satisfy everyone, some legal experts said.

"Factually, we know there was a killing," said David LaBahn, the president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys in Washington. "Now the question is: Is it a murder, or a manslaughter, or a justifiable homicide? Is it an involuntary manslaughter? Is it an assault?"

Some residents said they worry there will be violence if Corey decides not to charge Zimmerman. Police aren't saying what, if any, precautions they are taking.

Some think this city of about 53,000 — around 57 percent white and 30 percent black — will come through the crisis without violence, as it did during similar uproars.

James Carder, a mechanic at McRobert's Auto Center, put a message on his shop that was readily visible: "Sanford is still a good little town."

"It has problems just like everywhere,'' said Cardner, who is white. ''But it's still a good little town. It always has been and always will be."

Information from the Associated Press, Miami Herald and New York Times was used in this report.

Answer coming soon in Trayvon Martin slaying 04/10/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 11:33pm]
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