Florida judge defers ruling on bond for Trayvon Martin killer

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 29, 2012 1:49 PM
Florida judge defers ruling on bond for Trayvon Martin killer

By Barbara Liston

SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer charged with killing unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, was back in court on Friday for a bond hearing that ended without a ruling.

Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester adjourned the hearing without a decision. He was expected to issue a written ruling later, after reviewing documents and other materials submitted by Zimmerman's lawyers.

Zimmerman is charged in the shooting death of 17-year-old Martin during a confrontation in a gated community in the central Florida city of Sanford on February 26.

Prosecutors asked that Zimmerman be kept in jail pending trial on second-degree murder charges because he misled the court about his financial situation at an earlier bond hearing.

Defense lawyer Mark O'Mara said Zimmerman posed no risk of harm to the community and should be released again on $150,000 bond. He characterized the case against Zimmerman as weak and said he was likely to be acquitted at trial.

Martin's killing drew national attention because police initially failed to arrest Zimmerman. They cited Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law and Zimmerman's claim that he used deadly force because he believed his life was being threatened by Martin.

At his first bond hearing on April 20, Zimmerman sat silently as his wife told the court that the couple had no money. He was released on $150,000 bond.

Shellie Zimmerman was later charged with perjury after investigators learned the couple had raised at least $135,000 from a PayPal account set up to collect donations for Zimmerman's legal defense and living expenses.

Prosecutors released transcripts of jailhouse phone calls in which the two discussed moving the money between accounts. Zimmerman's bond was revoked and he was ordered back to jail earlier this month.

At Friday's hearing, Adam Magill, a forensic accountant hired by the defense, testified that Zimmerman raised $205,637.96 through his PayPal account from April 9 to 25, netting $197,567.91 after fees and related expenses.

He described a series of money transfers among accounts held by Zimmerman, his wife and his sister.

Asked by prosecutor Bernie De La Rionda whether it appeared the Zimmermans were trying to mislead someone about how much money Zimmerman had at the time of the first bond hearing, Magill said the transactions would "make it look like he didn't have the money."

The money is now under the control of a trustee.

De La Rionda said the transactions showed that Zimmerman was untrustworthy.

"It was done to hide the money so they (Zimmerman and his wife) could deceive the court, lie to the court," he said.

Zimmerman's lawyers had said appearing in his jail uniform would be prejudicial to potential jurors, and the judge ruled he could wear civilian clothes to court. He wore a gray suit jacket, white shirt and dark tie at Friday's hearing in the Seminole County Circuit Court.

O'Mara, the defense attorney, had planned to call his client to the stand but decided against it after the judge ruled that Zimmerman would be subject to cross examination by prosecutors.

Probation officer Adam Vincent, who supervised Zimmerman during his earlier release on bond, described the defendant as "a model client" and said he did not foresee any problems if he were released again.

O'Mara also introduced photos of the injuries Zimmerman suffered in what Zimmerman described as a life-or-death struggle with Martin, and statements from potential witnesses.

(Reporting by Barbara Liston, writing by Jane Sutton; Editing by Sandra Maler and Dan Grebler)