By George E. Curry
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Although the judge said he had been “manipulating the system to his own benefit,” George Zimmerman, the killer of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, was released on bond in Sanford, Fla. on Friday for a second time and driven to an undisclosed location.
Zimmerman, whose bond was initially set at $150,000, was released on $1 million bond, which required a 10 percent payment of $100,000. Because he had already put up $15,000 to get out of jail in April, Zimmerman only had to pay an additional $85,000. The former neighborhood watch captain has received more than $200,000 in donations through a personal Web site. He raised $20,000 in the 24-hour hour period after his bond was set on Thursday.
Trayvon Martin, had gone to a nearby convenience store to make a purchase and was returning to a town house he was visiting with his father on Feb. 26 when he was shot to death shortly after 7 p.m. The high school junior from Miami Gardens, Fla. was unarmed and was carrying only a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona Tea.
Zimmerman had called 9-1-1 to report a “suspicious” Black male in the gated community. He confirmed that he was following Martin on the rainy Sunday night, but the dispatcher told Zimmerman. “OK, we don’t need you to do that.” He ignored that directive, got into a fight later with Martin, and killed him with a single shot to the chest from his 9 mm semi-automatic pistol.
Zimmerman was taken in for questioning but was released five hours later after he claimed the right to self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. He remained free until the special prosecutor in the case, under intense public pressure, filed a second- degree murder charge against him on April 11. Zimmerman turned himself in to police and was immediately placed under arrest.
On April 20, Zimmerman was granted bond and was released from jail three days later. His bail was revoked after it was discovered that he and his wife had lied about his ability to post bond. Zimmerman’s bond was raised from $150,000 to $1 million, which was quickly met. He was released from jail at 2:49 p.m. Friday. Accompanied by two men, one of whom was his bondsman, Zimmerman was dressed in a white dress shirt, a jacket and no tie. The men left in a waiting SUV.
“He is very happy to be out. It’s been a very sobering experience spending the last month in jail,” Don West, one of Zimmerman’s attorneys, told reporters.
In New Orleans to attend a seminar at the Essence Music Festival, Sybrina Fulton, the slain teenager’s mother, said, “Just to know that the killer of my son may walk free some time one day, it really hurts.”
The judge granted Zimmerman bond a second time after citing the state constitution that says: “Unless charged with a capital offense or an offense punishable by life imprisonment and the proof of guilt is evident and the presumption great, every person charged with a crime or a violation of municipal or county ordinance shall be entitled to pretrial release on reasonable conditions.”
Despite relying on the Florida constitution and legal precedents as the basis for his decision, Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester, Jr. made it clear in his 8-page, strongly-worded order setting bail that he was convinced that Zimmerman had been planning to flee the country in order to avoid prosecution.
At his bond hearing on April 20, Zimmerman’s lawyers portrayed their client as indigent and made no mention of the amount of money Zimmerman had received. In a motion to revoke Zimmerman’s bond for misleading the court, the prosecutor stated, “The Credit Union statements shown on 4/19/2012, the day before the Bond Hearing, Defendant and his wife had access to over $135,00.00. Defendant has intentionally deceived the Court with the assistance of his wife…”
The motion also recalled, “Defendant’s family members misinformed the Court (the State would use a much stronger and accurate word to describe what occurred –Defendant’s wife lied to the Court) about Defendant and his family finances.”
Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie, was later arrested and charged with one count of perjury. She was released on $1,000 bond.
“Contrary to the image presented by the Defendant not by evidence but only by argument of counsel, it appears to this Court that the Defendant is manipulating the system to his own benefit,” Judge Lester wrote. “The evidence is clear that the Defendant and his wife acted in concert, but primarily at the Defendant’s direction, to conceal their cash holdings. They spoke in rudimentary code to conceal the true amount of money they were dealing with.”
The judge added, “The Defendant also neglected to disclose that he had a valid second passport in his safe deposit box. Notably, together with the passport, the money only had to be hidden for a short time for him to leave the country if the Defendant made a quick decision to flee. It is entirely reasonable for the Court to find that, but for the requirement that he be placed on electronic monitoring, the Defendant and his wife would have fled the United States with at least of $130,000 of other people’s money.”
Later in the decision, Judge Lester repeated his view that Zimmerman was plotting to flee.
“Although there is no record of flight to avoid prosecution, the Court finds that circumstances indicate that the Defendant was preparing to flee to avoid prosecution, but such plans were thwarted,” the judge wrote in his bail order.
Judge Lester observed that Zimmerman had taken courses in criminal justice with the intention of becoming a police officer, an attorney, a judge or a magistrate like his father. In addition, Zimmerman had been arrested before and had completed a pre-trial intervention program. Zimmerman had also filed an injunction and had an injunction filed against him.
“Thus, before this tragic incident, the Defendant had a very sophisticated knowledge of the criminal justice system over and above that of the average, law-abiding citizen,” the judge wrote.
As an example of Zimmerman’s attempt to manipulate judicial proceedings, Judge Lester noted, “The Defendant chose as a matter of strategy, after consultation with his attorney, to not personally take the stand and testify under oath to give an explanation concerning the presentation of false testimony. The Defendant requested special treatment to carve out an exception as to when a Defendant is allowed to exercise the right of allocution.
“The Defendant, through counsel, requested the right to make a statement but not be subject to cross examination. The Court denied the Defendant’s request and the defendant chose not to testify rather than be subject to cross examination.”
Among the conditions set for bail, Zimmerman will be subjected to electronic monitoring at his expense, he can’t leave Seminole County, Fla. without prior authorization of the court, he is forbidden from opening up or maintaining a bank account, he must report to the county’s pre-release department every 48 hours and he must observe a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
“Under any definition, the Defendant has flouted the system,” Judge Lester wrote. “Counsel has attempted to portray the Defendant as a confused young man who was fearful and experienced a moment of weakness and who may have also acted out of a sense of ‘betrayal’ by the system. Based upon all the evidence presented, this court finds the opposite. The Defendant has tried to manipulate the system when he has been presented the opportunity to do so.”