Attorneys for George Zimmerman announced Tuesday that their client has cut off contact with them, forcing them to withdraw as his legal counsel in the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager in Florida.
Mr. Zimmerman, who has claimed self-defense in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, has not returned their phone calls or emails since Sunday, attorney Craig Sonner said in a hastily called news conference with attorney Hal Uhrig in Sanford, Fla.
Even as Mr. Zimmerman refused to take their calls, the attorneys said he had made a series of moves without their knowledge. In a highly unusual step, Mr. Zimmerman contacted the office of special prosecutor Angela Corey, who refused to speak to him without his legal counsel.
Mr. Zimmerman also called Fox News host Sean Hannity and conducted an off-the-record interview without the knowledge of his attorneys, they said. After setting up a website and PayPal account for him with the help of his father, the attorneys said they learned that he had set up his own website independently.
His erratic behavior has them worried that "he may not be in control of what's going on," Mr. Uhrig said.
"We're concerned for his emotional and physical safety," said Mr. Uhrig, adding that his former client could be suffering some sort of mental breakdown and that they've been told the neighborhood-watch volunteer has lost weight during the scrutiny that has made him the object of death threats and a Black Panthers bounty.
The attorneys also confirmed that Mr. Zimmerman has left Florida but not the U.S. The two men also said that while they have met family members in person, they have never met Mr. Zimmerman in the flesh and have spoken with him only on the phone since the Feb. 26 shooting.
Mr. Zimmerman, 28, became the target of protests nationwide after he shot Trayvon, a black high school student who was walking through a gated community in Sanford when he was killed. Mr. Zimmerman, a half-white, half-Hispanic neighborhood-watch volunteer who called 911 shortly before the shooting, has said that he was attacked by the teenager, who was unarmed.
The prosecutor said Monday that she would not summon a grand jury to hear the charges, opting instead to decide whether to prosecute Mr. Zimmerman herself.
That decision could come later this week, as Ms. Corey released a brief statement late Tuesday saying she would make an announcement about the case within 72 hours.
Ben Crump, an attorney for Trayvon's family, said that if his former lawyers don't know where Mr. Zimmerman is — the state generally counts on defense attorneys to be able to deliver a client — he could become a flight risk.
"At this point, we're just concerned that nobody knows where he is at. Nobody knows how to get to him," Mr. Crump told the Associated Press.
On his website, called "The Real George Zimmerman," Mr. Zimmerman says he decided to create the online site after learning that other websites had been created to raise money for his legal defense.
"I cannot attest to the validity of these other websites as I have not received any funds collected, intended to support my family and I through this trying, tragic time," Mr. Zimmerman says in a statement on the website.
The website includes a PayPal account on which supporters can donate to help pay for his living and legal expenses.
"I was involved in a life altering event which led me to become the subject of intense media coverage," he said. "As a result of the incident and subsequent media coverage, I have been forced to leave my home, my school, my employer, my family and ultimately, my entire life. This website's sole purpose is to ensure my supporters they are receiving my full attention without any intermediaries."
Both his former attorneys said they continued to believe that he acted in self-defense, contending that Trayvon committed battery by taking the first swing at Mr. Zimmerman. They also said they would take him back as a client if he asked them.
"People are saying, 'How can you shoot an unarmed man?'" Mr. Uhrig said. "You know what, an unarmed man can kill you if he keeps doing what he's doing."
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Valerie Richardson covers politics and the West from Denver. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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