Friday, February 23, 2018
News Roundup

Detective in George Zimmerman case turns to Jose Baez for legal help

The lead detective in the George Zimmerman murder trial has hired famed lawyer Jose Baez to represent him as he maneuvers the next steps of the contentious high-profile case, the Miami Herald learned.

Chris Serino, a former Sanford police major-crimes investigator, became a controversial figure when evidence revealed that the detective had quietly filed an arrest affidavit a few weeks after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, even as his chief publicly said there wasn't enough evidence to make a case.

Baez sent a letter last week to Dean Ringer Morton & Lawton, the law firm that sometimes represents the city of Sanford, advising that he will represent Serino in the upcoming proceedings. It is highly unusual for investigators to approach a murder trial with their own counsel.

Baez, who gained fame with the 2008 Casey Anthony case, declined to comment. A spokesman for Baez confirmed the letter and said Serino felt he needed an attorney to look out for his interests in the next stage of the case, but that he does not plan to file a lawsuit.

"He wants his own counsel — he's intimidated," said Baez spokesman Michael Wright. "It may not be a friendly deposition."

Tape recorded interviews between Zimmerman and Serino showed the investigator was skeptical of his suspect almost from the start. Three days after Martin was shot, Serino peppered Zimmerman with inconsistencies in his story and what he viewed as relatively light injuries, which didn't match the dramatic account of events.

Days after the interviews were made public, the 15-year department veteran was transferred to patrol duty on the overnight shift.

Like other Sanford police officers, he will soon have to give his sworn statement to prosecutors and Zimmerman's defense team.

Defense lawyer Mark O'Mara recently began interviewing Sanford police officers and detectives to determine who at the department wanted to arrest Zimmerman. Early interviews suggested the department was largely in agreement that there was no case against Zimmerman, O'Mara has said.

An FBI report released this summer showed Serino told agents that he was pressured by African-American officers to file charges.

The Feb. 26 killing exploded into national news after the Sanford police, citing Florida's Stand Your Ground law, declined to arrest Zimmerman. The Police Department never revealed that there was internal disagreement about filing charges against Zimmerman.

Zimmerman claims he was attacked by the unarmed Martin while the teenager was walking through the townhouse complex where Zimmerman lived. He says he was forced to shoot in self defense.

Once the case was taken away from the Sanford police, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder.

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