If Zimmerman is released, safety, location are issues

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ORLANDO, Fla. — After spending a week in a jail cell by himself, the neighborhood watch volunteer charged with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin stands a good chance of being granted bail Friday, despite the severity of the charge.

Whether George Zimmerman is allowed to leave the county as he awaits trial - and how he would remain safe - are two questions likely to be at the center of the hearing at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, legal experts say.

“Although it’s not routine for people charged with murder to get bond, they do get bond, and I think there is an excellent argument to be made in his specific case for him to be released on bond,” said defense attorney Randy McClean, who practices in Seminole County, about 15 miles northeast of Orlando.

Mr. Zimmerman has several factors in his favor. For one, he has ties to the local community including family members who are expected to testify by telephone on his behalf at Friday’s hearing.

He turned himself in voluntarily after second-degree murder charges were filed against him last week, a good indication that he doesn’t pose a flight risk. He has never been convicted of a crime, which suggests that he doesn’t pose a threat to society, legal experts said.

“It’s hard for a prosecutor to argue he will leave, when up to this point he has been cooperative and everyone knows who he is,” said Stacey Honowitz, a veteran prosecutor in Broward County.

A spokeswoman for special prosecutor Angela Corey’s office said she wouldn’t comment on whether Ms. Corey would object to Mr. Zimmerman being released on bond. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester was assigned the case Wednesday after a previous judge recused herself because of a potential conflict of interest.

Mr. Zimmerman’s safety weighed on the mind of his defense attorney right after he took on the case last week. Mark O’Mara indicated he would ask that Mr. Zimmerman be allowed to leave the area, if he is granted bond, because of those concerns.

“Normally, the conditions are that you stay local. I think that is going to be difficult,” Mr. O’Mara said in an interview. “I think nobody would deny the fact that if George Zimmerman were walking down the street today, he would be at risk. That is a reality.”

The judge would have discretion to allow Mr. Zimmerman to live elsewhere along with a number of restrictions such as a curfew, regular reporting requirement and possibly an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet, said Florida International University law professor Joelle Moreno.

“That would be the kind of low-cost agreement between Zimmerman and the court that might make sense, so we’re not talking about police protection for an extended period of time,” Ms. Moreno said.

There is only so much that law enforcement can do to help protect Mr. Zimmerman, though, if he is released from jail, said Michael Grieco, a former Miami-Dade County prosecutor who is now in private practice.

“There is no mechanism in which a defendant is entitled to an around-the-clock detail,” Mr. Grieco said. “The irony is that the only safe place for him, considering the current atmosphere surrounding the case, is protective custody within the jail system.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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