George Zimmerman has gone rogue.
The man accused of killing unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin has been dodging his defense team, trying to talk directly to the people debating whether to prosecute him and apparently having off-the-record conversations with conservative talk jock Sean Hannity.
In an unusual news conference on Tuesday afternoon, Zimmerman’s attorneys said they were withdrawing from his case because of their client’s bizarre behavior in recent days.
“I can’t ethically go forward and say that I’m representing George Zimmerman when I haven’t talked to him in a couple of days and he’s giving interviews, apparently,” said defense attorney Craig Sonner. “I mean, that’s just the rumors I’m getting…There are a lot of things going on that I don’t know about.”
One of the most intriguing claims the attorneys made was that at some point recently, Zimmerman put in a call to Hannity, the Fox News host who aired an exclusive interview with the man’s father last month. Attorney Hal Uhrig sounded particularly unnerved about the lack of information he and his colleague were getting about the call.
“We learned that he had called Sean Hannity of Fox News directly, and not through us,” Uhrig said. “And we believe — I can’t confirm this — we believe that he spoke directly with Sean, off the record.”
Presumably speaking about Hannity, he added: “He’s not even willing to tell us what our client told him.”
Neither Hannity nor a representative of Fox News returned TPM’s requests for comment.
The picture that the attorneys painted of their now former client was of a person out of control. The attorneys said they were not abandoning him completely, but they could no longer speak on his behalf if they were not talking to him directly.
Uhrig said “the final straw” in their decision came Tuesday when they found out that Zimmerman had contacted the special prosecutor who is investigating the case. Zimmerman apparently wanted to talk to the prosecutor without his attorneys. The prosecutor, according to the attorneys, declined to speak to him unless he was represented by counsel.
Uhrig and Sonner also revealed that they never met personally with Zimmerman, instead speaking only through phone calls, text messages, emails and messages passed through friends and family. Uhrig also said he did not believe their former client was still in the state, saying “stop looking in Florida, look much further away.”
The attorneys said they were still in contact with Zimmerman through Sunday. After that, he began dodging their calls.
Uhrig blamed the bizarre behavior on the incredible amount of stress and attention that Zimmerman has faced since the Feb. 26 killing, when he shot and killed the 17-year-old Martin. He claimed afterward that he was acting in self defense and so police declined to arrest him.
The case has set off a national debate over race and justice. Zimmerman has also faced death threats, most of them being posted on the internet.
Uhrig said Zimmerman “is not doing well emotionally, probably suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.” The behavior “suggests that he might not be in full control of what’s going on,” Uhrig said.
All of the strange developments came a day after a website appeared claiming to be set up on behalf of Zimmerman and asking for donations to a legal defense fund. The lawyers said they didn’t know anything about the site but said it appeared to be legitimate.
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com