The credibility of Trayvon Martin's shooter could become an issue at trial after a Florida judge said George Zimmerman and his wife lied to the court about their finances to obtain a bond and ordered him to return to jail by today, legal experts say.
That's because the case hinges on jurors believing Zimmerman's account of what happened the night that Trayvon, 17, was killed. Zimmerman, 28, wasn't charged in the case until more than a month after the shooting, and the former neighborhood watch volunteer has maintained that he shot the unarmed teenager in self-defense under Florida's so-called stand your ground law.
Protests were held across the nation, and the case spurred debate about whether race was a factor in Zimmerman's actions and in the initial police handling of the case. Trayvon was black; Zimmerman's father is white, and his mother is from Peru. The questioning of Zimmerman's truthfulness by the judge on Friday could undermine his credibility if it is brought up at trial. It also may complicate how his defense presents him as a witness, said Orlando-area attorney Randy McClean, a former prosecutor.
"The other key witness, unfortunately, is deceased," McClean said. "Basically, Zimmerman is going to be asking the jury to believe his version of the facts. As the case stands now, his credibility is absolutely critical to the case."
Zimmerman went into hiding in the weeks after the shooting amid an impassioned debate about the case, and his exact whereabouts since he was released from jail on bond remain unclear. It also was not immediately clear exactly where Zimmerman would surrender. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the February shooting. He maintains he shot Trayvon in self-defense because he was beating him up after confronting Zimmerman about following him in a gated community outside Orlando.
Witness accounts of the rainy night that Trayvon was shot are spotty. There is no video of the fight, though photos released by prosecutors show Zimmerman with wounds to his face and the back of his head.
Zimmerman's credibility would be important if his attorney, Mark O'Mara, tries to get a judge to dismiss the charges based on the law, said Orlando defense attorney David Hill.
"If [Zimmerman] was in on something that was not truthfully revealed to the judge, when there is a 'stand your ground' hearing, of course you're going to second-guess him," Hill said.
Zimmerman was arrested 44 days after the killing, and during a bond hearing in April, his wife, Shellie, testified that the couple had limited funds available.
Prosecutors pointed out in their motion that Zimmerman had $135,000 available then. It had been raised from donations through a website he had set up. They suggested more has been collected since and deposited in a bank account.