SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — The credibility of Trayvon Martin’s shooter could be an issue at trial after a judge said that George Zimmerman and his wife lied to the court about their finances to obtain a bond, legal experts say.
That’s because the case hinges on jurors believing his account of what happened the night the 17-year-old was killed. Zimmerman wasn’t charged in the case until more than a month after the shooting, saying he shot Martin in self-defense under Florida’s so-called stand your ground law. Protests were held across the nation, and the case spurred debate about race. Martin was black; Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is from Peru.
The questioning of Zimmerman’s truthfulness by the judge on Friday could undermine his credibility if it is brought up at trial. It also may complicate how his defense presents him as a witness, said Orlando-area attorney Randy McClean, who is a former prosecutor.
“The other key witness, unfortunately, is deceased,” McClean said. “Basically, Zimmerman is going to be asking the jury to believe his version of the facts. … As the case stands now, his credibility is absolutely critical to the case.”
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder for the February shooting. The neighborhood watch volunteer says he shot Martin in self-defense because the unarmed 17-year-old was beating him up after confronting Zimmerman about following him in a gated community outside Orlando.
Witness accounts of the rainy night Martin was shot are spotty. There is no video of the fight, though photos prosecutors have released showed Zimmerman with wounds to his face and the back of his head.
“If he was in on something that was not truthfully revealed to the judge, when there is a ‘stand your ground’ hearing, of course you’re going to second-guess him,” Hill said.
Zimmerman was arrested 44 days after the killing, and during a bond 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. The 28-year-old was freed a few days later after posting $15,000 in cash — which is typical — and has since been in hiding.
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 returned to jail by Sunday afternoon.
“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.” His attorney, Mark O'Mara, said it wouldn’t be a problem to bring Zimmerman back into custody by the deadline.