Sunday, February 25, 2018

Zimmerman must return to jail by Sunday

SANFORD — George Zimmerman must return to jail, a judge ordered Friday in a strongly worded ruling that said Zimmerman and his wife lied to the court about their finances to obtain bail in a case that hinges on jurors believing his account of what happened the night Trayvon Martin was killed.

Zimmerman, 28, has until Sunday afternoon to turn himself in again.

He pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder for the Feb. 26 fatal shooting. The neighborhood watch volunteer says he shot Martin in self-defense. He alleges that the 17-year-old was beating him up after confronting Zimmerman about following him in a gated community outside Orlando.

Zimmerman was arrested 44 days after the killing. During a bail hearing in April, his wife, Shellie, testified that the couple had limited funds available. The hearing also was notable because Zimmerman took the stand and apologized to Martin's parents.

Prosecutors pointed out in their motion that Zimmerman had $135,000 available then. It had been raised from donations through a website he set up, and they suggested more has been collected since and deposited in a bank account.

Shellie Zimmerman was asked about the website at the hearing, but she said she didn't know how much money had been raised. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester set bail at $150,000. Zimmerman was freed a few days later after posting $15,000 in cash, which is typical. He has been in hiding since.

Prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda complained Friday, "This court was led to believe they didn't have a single penny. It was misleading and I don't know what words to use other than it was a blatant lie." The judge agreed and ordered Zimmerman back to jail.

"Does your client get to sit there like a potted plant and lead the court down the primrose path? That's the issue," Lester said. "He can't sit back and obtain the benefit of a lower bond based upon those material falsehoods."

The defense countered that Zimmerman and his wife never used the money for anything, which indicated "there was no deceit." O'Mara said it wouldn't be a problem to bring Zimmerman back into custody by the deadline.

The judge said he would schedule a hearing after Zimmerman is back in custody so he could explain himself.

Police in Sanford did not immediately arrest Zimmerman, citing Florida's "stand your ground" law that gives wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat in a fight if people believe they are in danger of being killed or seriously injured.

Prosecutors also said although Zimmerman surrendered a passport at the bail hearing, he had a second one he didn't report that he and his wife, during jail conversations, spoke about keeping in a safety deposit box.

However, Lester dismissed that concern as the equivalent of someone who has lost a driver's license, applies for a new one and then finds the old one.

Also at Friday's hearing, De la Rionda and O'Mara asked a judge to stop the public release of witness names and statements made by Zimmerman to police officers. Those documents normally are part of the public record under Florida law, and the judge agreed.

Lester said he would order the release of the documents once he has reviewed them and redacted items that aren't subject to disclosure under the state's public records law.

A consortium of more than a dozen media groups, including the Associated Press, asked the judge to ignore the request, saying such records are presumed to be available under Florida law.

COMMENTATOR REBUKED: The Southern Baptist Convention's ethics chief was reprimanded Friday and his radio show canceled after he made inflammatory comments about the Trayvon Martin case.

Richard Land accused President Barack Obama and black leaders of shamefully exploiting Martin's death for political gain. He also said racial profiling was understandable given the crime statistics for black men.

One Southern Baptist leader called for Land's resignation. The controversy got more intense when a blogger revealed that Land's commentary was copied nearly verbatim from a Washington Times editorial, although Land did not credit the paper.

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