Judge delays decision on Zimmerman contributions
(CNN) — George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer accused of wrongly killing Trayvon Martin, will not immediately have to turn over donations made to his website, a Florida judge said Friday.
Zimmerman collected about $204,000 in donations through the website, but did not disclose the contributions during his bond hearing last week, according to his attorney, Mark O’Mara. Prosecutors had asked for a bond of $1 million, but Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. made it $150,000 after Zimmerman’s family testified they did not have the resources necessary to meet the higher level.
Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda on Friday asked Lester to increase the bond in light of the donations. But the judge said he would delay ruling on the request, in part because he does not know if he has authority to say how the money can be used.
Lester and O’Mara both said they are concerned about releasing the names of donors to Zimmerman, who has faced threats since the case began making national headlines in March.
“My fear is they may well be targeted for reprisals or animosities or whatever,” O’Mara told reporters after the hearing.
Zimmerman, 28, was released Monday on $150,000 bail, 10% of which was put up to secure his release while he awaits trial on a second-degree murder charge in Martin’s February 26 death.
About $5,000 from the website contribution was used in making bond, O’Mara said. The rest came from a loan secured by a family home.
Although Zimmerman spent some of the contributions on living expenses, about $150,000 remains, O’Mara said Friday. O’Mara said he has put the money into a trust he controls until a final decision is made about its use.
Lester asked for additional information about the accounts but did not indicate when he would rule.
“I’m not going to make a snap decision,” the judge said.
Also during Friday’s hearing, Lester declined to consider a gag order requested by prosecutors, saying it was premature and that none of the attorneys in the case had said anything to concern him so far. CNN was among the media organizations opposing the motion.
O’Mara said he learned about the money on Wednesday as he and Zimmerman were trying to shut down Zimmerman’s website, Facebook page and Twitter account to avoid concerns about possible impersonators and other problems.
“He asked me what to do with his PayPal accounts, and I asked him what he was talking about,” O’Mara told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday. “He said those were the accounts that had the money from the website he had. And there was about … $204,000 that had come in to date.”
O’Mara had said earlier this month that he believed Zimmerman had no money.
Asked whether knowledge of the money might have made a difference to Lester, who presided at Zimmerman’s bond hearing, O’Mara said, “It might have.”
O’Mara could not explain why Zimmerman didn’t disclose the funds, but said he didn’t think his client had meant to deceive anyone.
“If that was an oversight by him, then it was. And quite honestly, with everything he’s going through for the past several weeks, if that’s the only oversight he’s committed, we’ll deal with it, Judge Lester will deal with it,” he said.
Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump said Zimmerman’s failure to reveal that he had the money shows that he is being dishonest.
“If his testimony at the bond hearing is any indication of what is to come, then the lying has already begun,” Crump said.
The attorney also said the Martin family has raised less than $100,000 in fund-raising efforts to date, and that the money collected will go toward the Trayvon Martin Foundation.
Crump said his firm will not collect a fee in any of the criminal proceedings.
“If we collect any money, it will be from a civil lawsuit and not from any donor money,” he said.
Zimmerman was arrested April 11 after a lengthy delay punctuated by protests and rallies nationwide calling for charges against him.
Critics accuse Zimmerman of racially profiling and unjustly killing Martin, a 17-year-old African-American. Zimmerman told police he shot Martin in self-defense, according to police reports.
Although details of the shooting remain murky, it is known that Martin ventured out from the Sanford, Florida, home of his father’s fiancee and went to a nearby convenience store, where he bought a bag of candy and an iced tea. On his way back, he had a confrontation with Zimmerman, who shot him.
Zimmerman had called 911 to complain about a suspicious person in the neighborhood, according to authorities.
In the call, Zimmerman said he was following Martin after the teen started to run, prompting the dispatcher to tell him, “We don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman pursued Martin anyway but then said he lost sight of him.
According to an Orlando Sentinel story later confirmed by Sanford police, Zimmerman told authorities that after he briefly lost track of Martin, the teen approached him. After the two exchanged words, Zimmerman said, he reached for his cell phone, and then Martin punched him in the nose. Zimmerman said Martin pinned him to the ground and began slamming his head onto the sidewalk, leading to the shooting.
Police have said Zimmerman was not immediately charged because there was no evidence to disprove his account that he’d acted in self-defense. A police report indicated he was bleeding from the nose and the back of his head.
O’Mara on Friday revealed a new website, www.gzlegalcase.com, and another site, not yet live, that will host a defense fund. The only thing on the site Friday morning was a statement about the donations.
Regardless of what happens to the contributions, O’Mara intends to open a legal defense fund for his client, he said.
“I’ve had dozens, hundreds actually, of people wanting to donate,” he said Thursday.
O’Mara, who said he charges $400 per hour for family law cases, estimated Zimmerman’s defense costs could reach $1 million.
“You can really go through a lot of money on a case like this, with the intensity of it,” he said.