George Zimmerman has returned to Florida to turn himself in to police after having his bond revoked, a lawyer for the self-appointed neighbourhood watchman has said.
Zimmerman, who is charged with the second-degree murder of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, has until 2.30pm ET Sunday to surrender to authorities, having been found to have lied to a court about his finances.
His attorney Mark O’Mara announced on his website early Sunday that his client – who had been residing at an undisclosed location out of fear of reprisals – was now back in Florida ahead of the deadline imposed by Judge Kenneth Lester Jr on Friday.
Lester revoked Zimmerman’s $150,000 bail after ruling that the defendant lied about money raised on a private website.
The state attorney prosecuting Zimmerman, 28, for the second-degree murder of Martin during a confrontation in Sanford on 26 February insisted he had $135,000 in his defence fund, yet claimed at a bond hearing in April that he was penniless.
“Does your client get to sit there like a potted plant and lead the court down the primrose path?” an angry Lester asked Zimmerman’s lawyer, Mark O’Mara, at Friday’s hearing.
“He can’t sit back and obtain the benefit of a lower bond based upon those material falsehoods.”
Conversations from prison between Zimmerman and his wife Shellie also revealed the existence of a second US passport that he owned but did not surrender, leading prosecutors to state he was a flight risk.
Zimmerman will get the chance to tell his side of the story this week after Lester said he would schedule another hearing, possibly as early as Monday.
But while O’Mara, is likely to plead for his client to be bailed once again, Lester has the option to order him to remain behind bars until his trial, which may not take place until next year.
Potentially more damaging is the hit to the defendant’s credibility caused by being seen lying to a judge. Zimmerman admits shooting and killing Martin, 17, as he walked through the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community but has insisted that he acted in self-defence against an aggressor who broke his nose. Under Florida’s controversial stand-your-ground law, the use of deadly force is justified in life-threatening situations.
Lawyers for Martin’s family, however, question how his account of the incident can be believed if he was willing to deceive a court over his financial circumstances.
“Whatever dishonesty that comes forth by George Zimmerman that they can prove, you can best believe it will become the issue of this case,” said Benjamin Crump, who represents Martin’s parents Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin.
Legal analysts agree it will be an issue at trial. “Basically, Zimmerman is going to be asking the jury to believe his version of the facts,” former prosecutor Randy McLean, now an Orlando-based attorney, told the Associated Press.
“As the case stands now, his credibility is absolutely critical to the case.”
McLean also pointed to O’Mara having waived his client’s right to a speedy trial, a decision that might not prove favourable given that Zimmerman is now heading back to jail.
“When your client is out on bond, the pressure is much lighter to rush to trial … because your client is sitting at home,” he said.
“When your client is sitting at the Seminole County Jail, your client is going to want this resolved.”
Zimmerman faces a minimum of 25 years in prison if convicted. Special prosecutor Angela Corey charged him with second-degree murder in April after weeks of outrage and public protests over the decision by police almost two months earlier to release him without charge.