A Florida judge was considering George Zimmerman‘s latest request for freedom on Friday after the accused murderer turned down an opportunity to apologise for misleading the court over donations to his defence fund.
Judge Kenneth Lester reserved his decision following an emotional and often fiery bail hearing in which the parents of Trayvon Martin, the teenager killed by the neighbourhood watch leader in a February altercation in Sanford, were in court to listen to a 911 recording containing the gunshot that ended their son’s life.
It means Zimmerman, 28, must stay in jail at least until Lester makes his ruling, which could come later on Friday.
Zimmerman, who denies second-degree murder, refused to take the stand after learning that he would be open to cross-examination if he did so. Lester, who in April freed him on $150,000 bail, sent him back to jail on 1 June after learning of the deception.
His lawyer, Mark O’Mara, had been keen for Zimmerman to explain personally why he moved more than $200,000 between bank accounts owned by his wife and sister, money donated to a website he set up after the shooting.
Prosecutors argue that he was hiding the money to secure a lower bail amount and that he and his wife Shellie, 25, spoke in code during phone calls from the Seminole County jail to disguise what they were doing. Shellie Zimmerman has since been charged with perjury.
“It was done to hide the money, to deceive the court, lie to the court,” said assistant state attorney Bernie de la Rionda, who asked Lester to reject bail.
“Frankly he was manipulating the whole thing. He was using his wife as a conduit to do this. Now you don’t have just committing a crime, you have him lying to the court through his wife.”
O’Mara insisted there was no intent by his client to deceive the court and that Zimmerman, who appeared in court today in a grey suit and dark blue polka-dot tie, was just confused and frightened by the situation he found himself in.
“I don’t know how you act as a 28-year-old when someone gives you $200,000, and then throws you out of your house, out of your town, out of your neighbourhood, charges you with a crime that you say you did not commit and that you only acted in a certain way because you had to,” he said.
“The manoeuvrings of the PayPal money were just that, manoeuvrings without any true negative intent.”
O’Mara, who asked Lester to reinstate bail at $150,000, also wanted Zimmerman to be allowed to speak without cross-examination.
But Lester said: “He’s no different to anyone else. He can’t pick and choose. It doesn’t work that way. If he wants to testify, there’s the stand. If he doesn’t, I’ll respect that.”
Zimmerman’s father, Robert, did testify, however, to say he believed a voice heard on a 911 tape screaming for help was that of his son. Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, sat shaking their heads when the tape containing the gunshot was played.
Earlier in the three-hour hearing, the court heard that public donations for Zimmerman’s defence fund and living expenses exceeded $205,000, which was eventually transferred from PayPal into the defendant’s personal bank account.
O’Mara called a forensic business accountant, Adam Magill, to explain the subsequent flow of money between bank accounts belonging to Zimmerman and his wife and sister at about the time of his April bail hearing.
Magill said that the money was moved in numerous increments of less than $10,000 to avoid tax reporting restrictions but was mostly returned to Zimmerman’s own account, from which almost $160,000 was sent on to an independent fund set up by his lawyer.
He said the Zimmermans also spent about $25,000 on credit card debts and living expenses and had retained a smaller amount as a cash reserve, the rest accounted for in bank fees and transfer charges. “All the ins and outs match perfectly,” Magill said.
O’Mara, meanwhile, rejected any suggestion that the money was improperly used. “Tons of people gave Mr Zimmerman money,” he said. “He was thrown out of his house, he couldn’t go back to his neighbourhood. So he puts out a request to the public and they respond. And then he dared to use that same money for living expenses?”
De la Rionda, however, questioned why the Zimmermans needed to move money between their various accounts for any reason other than to “hide” it at a time when his financial position was relevant to his first application for bail.
He asked Magill if he thought such transfers could be made to mislead a court. Magill conceded: “I wouldn’t say to mislead, but to make it appear like they didn’t have the money.”
O’Mara also entered into evidence photographs and videos showing Zimmerman’s head and facial wounds, and called to the stand Kevin O’Rourke, a firefighter and emergency medical technician with the Sanford fire department.
O’Rourke, among the first medical personnel to arrive at the scene, said he examined Zimmerman and observed cuts and a “deformed nose”, an injury the defendant claimed he received when Martin punched him.
He said he cleaned up the wounds and advised Zimmerman that he might need stitches for lacerations to the back of his head.
O’Rourke said he also examined Martin, 17, on the ground nearby. “He was deceased upon [our] arrival,” he said.
Adam Vincent, a Seminole County probation officer, said Zimmerman was “to all intents and purposes a model client” after his release in April. He said: “We never had any problems with Mr Zimmerman under our supervision. He was always polite and courteous.”