Florida prosecutors said on Friday they were surprised to learn that George Zimmerman had raised more than $200,000 for his own defense in the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.
But a week ago, those same prosecutors had a chance to grill Zimmerman and his family about the fund and mostly took a pass.The revelation about just how much money Zimmerman collected came on Thursday night when his attorney told CNN that his client managed to raise the cash in just a few weeks by using a crudely built website and a PayPal account.
The six-figure surprise was a major departure from what the Zimmerman family claimed during sworn testimony at a hearing last week.
Zimmerman, through his attorney, claimed poverty at the April 20 hearing about whether he should be released from jail on bond. His wife and parents testified they had little money on their own to pay a high bond amount if Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. decided to grant it.
But given the opportunity to question the family about the website, which was well publicized after it went live earlier this month, the special prosecutors who were picked by Gov. Rick Scott to handle the case spent so little time asking about it that they were unable to learn that Zimmerman socked away all that cash.
Assistant state attorney Bernie de la Rionda did ask the family members briefly about the website, which was called “The Real George Zimmerman” and offered a vague defense of the Feb. 26 killing in Sanford, Fla. But each one pleaded ignorance and the prosecutor quickly moved on.
“You don’t have any knowledge of the web site, do you, in terms of the money?” de la Rionda asked Zimmerman’s mother, Gladys Zimmerman.
“No,” she replied.
His father, Robert Zimmerman, said likewise: “I have no idea if there’s money, how much money or who has access to it.”
His wife, Shellie Zimmerman, said the same: “Currently, I don’t know.”
When Zimmerman himself took the stand later in the hearing, de la Rionda didn’t ask him about the funds. It’s unclear whether the judge would have allowed the questions, however, since he greatly limited what Zimmerman was allowed to talk about.
In general at last week’s hearing, de la Rionda and state attorney Angela Corey appeared to be caught off guard by several events. One of their lead investigators was called to testify and admitted he didn’t expect to take the stand. Additionally, de la Rionda said at the time that he didn’t expect so many facts about the night of the killing to be addressed at what was supposed to be a routine bond hearing.
But one of the questions left unanswered at the end was exactly who had control of the funds and how much was there.
Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, said he found out this week after he ordered his client to shut down the website. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Zimmerman then asked him what to do with all the money.
Attorneys for Martin’s family reacted with anger on Friday, saying Zimmerman had an obligation to disclose how much money he had available when he took the witness stand last week.
“George Zimmerman raised his right hand in court and swore to tell the truth. He swore to be honest,” attorney Benjamin Crump told CNN. “He watched that whole proceeding and never once said a word to the court whether or not he had raised money on that website when he knew he had raised over $200,000. He kept claiming he was indigent so he could get a very, very low bond.”
Indeed, despite the fact that prosecutors asked the judge to hold Zimmerman on a bond of no less than a $1 million, Lester ruled the defendant could be released from jail for $150,000. That meant Zimmerman’s family would have to put together just $15,000, or 10 percent, to secure his release.
The family was able to come up with the money a little more than two days later. Zimmerman was released from a Seminole County, Fla., jail early Monday morning. According to the Sentinel, Zimmerman’s attorney said $5,000 from the fund was used to help bail him from jail.
The attorneys for Martin’s family demanded on Friday that Zimmerman be thrown back in jail because they believe he intentionally deceived the court.
Prosecutors have asked for Lester to at least reconsider the amount of the bond.
Lester said on Friday he would consider the prosecution’s request and make a decision in the coming days. According to the Sentinel, he also told Zimmerman’s attorney he wants to know more information about where the donations came from.
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 at firstname.lastname@example.org