- Associated Press - Saturday, April 21, 2012

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — George Zimmerman is getting out of jail. Now his defense team has to worry about keeping the neighborhood watch volunteer accused of gunning down Trayvon Martin safe on the outside.

Defense attorneys for other high-profile clients who awaited trial 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 began staking out the Seminole County Jail early Saturday in Sanford, a day after a Florida judge agreed to let Zimmerman out on $150,000 bail. Zimmerman’s 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 said he must find a secure location for him.


Zimmerman appeared to be wearing a bulletproof vest under his charcoal suit, and his wife and parents testified by telephone instead of in the courtroom because they said they’ve been threatened and feared for their safety. His wife, Shellie Zimmerman, 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 be first be getting him out of Sanford,” said attorney Jose Baez, whose former client, Casey Anthony, endured similar scrutiny when she was released from an Orlando jail last summer after being acquitted of killing her 2-year-old daughter. “Everybody knows where he is getting released from. That is the first problem.”

Before he turned himself in to authorities earlier this month to face a second-degree murder charge, members of the New Black Panthers had put out a bounty for Zimmerman’s arrest. Protesters nationwide had held rallies carrying signs and chanting “Arrest Zimmerman Now!” 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 should go, but he wouldn’t disclose them. The judge appeared willing to help keep Zimmerman’s whereabouts secret in the court file, as O'Mara requested.

“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 that exist.”

In Anthony’s case, Baez had the cooperation of sheriff’s deputies who blocked traffic from the Orange County Jail and entrances to a nearby interstate so they could have unimpeded access to the highway during her late-night release. Anthony later made her way to Ohio without being detected, but had to return to an undisclosed location in Florida to serve out probation on a check-fraud charge.

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

But Baez said law enforcement officials would be called on to safely get him out of jail and away from media. “From then on, it’s really up to Mr. Zimmerman as to whether he’s going to be able to keep a low profile,” he said.

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

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