Monday, May 21, 2018

Defense attorneys urge George Zimmerman to keep low profile after release

SANFORD — George Zimmerman is getting out of jail. Now his defense team has to worry about keeping the neighborhood watch volunteer accused of murdering Trayvon Martin safe.

Defense attorneys for other high-profile clients who awaited trial while out on bail had advice for how to protect the man whose shooting of the unarmed black 17-year-old sparked nationwide protests: Get him out of Florida, keep him from going out in public and never leave him alone.

"He clearly puts himself in jeopardy unless he takes precautions," said New York attorney Barry Slotnick, who represented subway shooter Bernhard Goetz in the 1980s.

A half-dozen reporters, photographers and cameramen staked out the Seminole County Jail in Sanford on Saturday, a day after a Florida judge agreed to let Zimmerman out on $150,000 bail.

His attorney, Mark O'Mara, said it would take a few days before Zimmerman is released. His family needs time to secure collateral for the bail, Zimmerman needs to be fitted with an electronic monitoring device, and O'Mara must find a secure location for him, he said.

Zimmerman appeared to be wearing a bulletproof vest under his charcoal suit, and his wife, Shellie, and parents testified by telephone instead of in the courtroom because they said they have been threatened. His wife testified she had received hate mail.

Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester on Friday indicated that Zimmerman would be allowed to leave Florida if arrangements can be made with law enforcement to have him monitored out of state.

"The initial challenge is going to first be getting him out of Sanford," said attorney Jose Baez, whose former client Casey Anthony endured similar scrutiny when she was acquitted of killing her 2-year-old daughter. "Everybody knows where he is getting released from. That is the first problem."

Members of the New Black Panthers had put out a bounty for Zimmerman before he turned himself in earlier this month to face a second-degree murder charge.

Because of the emotions surrounding the case, O'Mara said of Zimmerman's release, "I would much rather do this safely than quickly."

O'Mara said he had several options for where Zimmerman could go, but he wouldn't disclose them. The judge seemed willing to help keep Zimmerman's whereabouts secret in the court file.

"I don't know where we're going to end up," O'Mara said after the bail hearing. "It's a very difficult decision to make. It's an enormously high-profile case and there are just a lot of emotions."

A spokeswoman for the Seminole County Sheriff's Office said late Friday that no special arrangements had been made yet for Zimmerman's release.

Post-bail security costs don't come cheap, either, and it could be extremely difficult for Zimmerman to pay for it. His attorney is considering having him declared indigent, and his wife has no income because she is in nursing school.

Baez said he expects there to be a cooling-off period over the next couple of months as Zimmerman fades from the spotlight and public attention moves on.

But until then, Zimmerman's attorneys should expect intense interest in where Zimmerman is, said Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney in Miami who is now in private practice. "The whereabouts of George Zimmerman will be one of the most intriguing curiosities of the legal world in the coming weeks."

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