Update: June 1, 2012, 5:03 PM
A Florida judge on Friday ordered George Zimmerman to return to jail within 48 hours, saying the man charged in the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin had essentially lied to the court earlier this year.
Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. made the order after prosecutors gave him evidence that they said proved Zimmerman and his wife had intentionally hidden a large amount of money from the court in April. At the time, Zimmerman’s family claimed they had very little money to pay a bond to secure his freedom. Because of that, the judge had ruled Zimmerman would be set free under an arrangement where the family only had to pay $15,000.
But on Friday, the judge said it was clear Zimmerman and his wife had access to about $135,000 more than they admitted. That cash came from donations to a crude website set up to raise money for his defense.
“They were well aware of the money that was available,” the judge on Friday.
The website was created earlier this year in the midst of a national uproar over the Feb. 26 killing in the Orlando suburb of Sanford. Zimmerman, who is Latino, used it to defend himself against the onslaught of accusations by activists and members of the public who said he killed the black teenager out of racial prejudice. He also opened a PayPal account to raise money to pay for his defense and living expenses, saying he was unable to work because of the huge amount of scrutiny the case received.
A neighborhood watchman in a gated community in Sanford, Zimmerman has said he followed Martin on the night of the shooting because he thought the teen was acting suspicious. In reality, the teen was returning to his father’s girlfriend’s house after picking up snacks from a nearby convenience store. Zimmerman has also claimed Martin attacked him at some point and so he shot the teen in self defense.
Prosecutors didn’t buy his defense, however. They charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder later in April, saying he confronted the teen and could have avoided the whole situation if he had decided not to give chase.
At a bond hearing on April 20, following his arrest, Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie Zimmerman, testified that she knew nothing about how much money her husband had raised with the website. “Currently, I don’t know,” she said. Zimmerman’s parents also testified that they knew nothing about the account. All three of them said they had very little money to post a bond to allow Zimmerman to be set free from jail while he awaits trial.
Prosecutors had asked for Zimmerman to be held in jail without a bond or for the judge to grant no less than a bond of $1 million.
But partly because because the testimony from Zimmerman’s family, the judge granted him a bond of $150,000. That meant the family would have to pay a bondsman just $15,000 to get him out of jail. Three days later, the money was posted and Zimmerman walked free.
The equation changed just a few days later, however, when Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, revealed that his client had managed to raise more than $200,000 with the website. O’Mara said only found out about the money after ordering Zimmerman to shut down the website following his release from jail.
The disclosure was obviously also a surprise to prosecutors. On Friday, they filed a motion with the court saying they believed Shellie Zimmerman had lied on the witness stand about the money and George Zimmerman had in effect deceived the court.
Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda revealed that the couple had jailhouse phone conversations days before the bond hearing in which they talked about having raised about $135,000 through the website.
“We have the jail calls that the defendant made to his wife and to other people…in which he repeatedly tells her about the money, about moving the money and transferring it from one position to another,” de la Rionda said. “They were even using codes…thinking that the police are going to be really stupid when listening to these calls and wouldn’t know what was going on.”
De la Rionda also revealed that George Zimmerman ownd a second passport, which he never disclosed to the court until just recently.
O’Mara, the attorney, said the second passport was an honest mistake and that Zimmerman had only recently found it himself, thinking he lost it years ago. After discovering it during a recent move, O’Mara said, Zimmerman immediately sent it to his defense attorneys.
O’Mara had a harder time explaining why his client never disclosed how much money he had earlier this year. “Maybe he wasn’t thinking this all through as we all would with 20 or 30 years of legal experience,” O’Mara told the judge.
The judge allowed Zimmerman a break on the passport. But what he didn’t tolerate was the deception about the money. He said he wanted the defendant to return to jail in the next two days and he would consider another bond hearing in the future in which Zimmerman could try to explain himself.
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