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New Questions About Zimmerman's Credibility


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, Oscar-nominated actress Glenn Close recently spoke with us about her decision to get involved in advocacy for people struggling with mental illness. Today, we hear from the people who inspired her, her sister Jessie and Jessie's son Calen. They talk candidly with us about how mental illness has shaped their lives. We'll have that conversation in just a few minutes.

But first, we want to focus on the latest turn in the Trayvon Martin case. Trayvon Martin, of course, was the unarmed Florida teenager who was shot and killed in February by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman. Mr. Zimmerman, the admitted shooter in the case, is back in custody after surrendering to authorities yesterday.

Judge Kenneth Lester revoked his bond on Friday, saying that Mr. Zimmerman and his wife misled the court about their assets in April. Here to tell us more is NPR's Greg Allen. He's been covering the case. He joins us now from his home office in Miami. Greg, welcome back. Thanks for joining us.


MARTIN: So the prosecution says Mr. Zimmerman failed to disclose that he'd raised about $135,000 via a website before his bond was set. In April, Mr. Zimmerman and his wife testified that they didn't have a lot of money or assets. But you know what's puzzling to me, Greg, is Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, disclosed information about that money several weeks ago. The judge didn't revoke his bond then. What happened here?

ALLEN: Right, Michel, that's true. And, you know, at the time, that was after George Zimmerman had gotten bail and Mark O'Mara, his attorney, had revealed this information about that there was actually, at that time, like, some $200,000 in the website. I think some people were surprised at that point that the judge did not revoke bail because certainly the conditions had changed.

And, you know, as you noted, George Zimmerman's attorney and his wife, certainly, told the judge at the time of his bail hearing that they didn't know how much money was in the account and they had no money to contribute toward bail. And so the judge set it at a relatively low figure, $150,000, you know. And I think at that point, there was - George Zimmerman's father actually pledged his mortgage on his home to help cover that.

Well, then, a few days later, then Mark O'Mara says, oh, it turns out we have all this money in the account and then nothing happened. What happened, of course, on Friday is that prosecutors came back and said to the judge, we think you should revoke bail and here's some new information that we've just learned about. And they had the transcripts of these jailhouse conversations, you know, which were pretty revealing.

MARTIN: Well, revealing how? Tell us more about that.

ALLEN: Well, I mean, well, there was the talk in there about the account and they used what sounded like something that you'd hear from mobsters. You know, they use this kind of coded language. This is - we're talking about George Zimmerman. He's in jail. He's on the phone talking to his wife. He knows - they should know the phone conversations are being recorded. They're clearly told that.

And then they start talking about the account and how much is in the account and they start saying, oh, is it - it's 155. And so it's clearly an indication there is $155,000 at that time, and they're discussing this. And this is back around - on the 12th of May. This is more than a week before the hearing. And they had several conversations, a couple of them took place in the credit union when George Zimmerman's wife, Shelly, is actually accessing the account.

So it gets pretty clear what's going on there.

MARTIN: The prosecution said that George Zimmerman had a second passport. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

ALLEN: Right. I mean, they also had a conversation - I think they learned about this - it looks like that the prosecutors learned about this from a conversation also in the jail when George Zimmerman was being held in jail in his wife and she says, oh, I have your passport. And he says, oh, yeah, you hold onto that. And she says, it's in the safe deposit box. And he says, yeah, you hold onto that.

Now, we know that George Zimmerman had turned his passport over to Mark O'Mara, who then turned it into court. That was a passport that expired right around the time of the court hearing. It turns out he had another passport, the prosecutors checked with the State Department and got all the information on it and they brought that to the judge.

Now, Mark O'Mara said to the judge, oh, I have that passport. I hadn't turned it in yet and any fault here is with me. And so I think the judge kind of pretty much dismissed it believing that O'Mara was playing straight with him and that he had the passport, and that George Zimmerman wasn't going to use it to flee. But, certainly, that conversation kind of led you to think that something could be going on there.

MARTIN: We're talking about the latest news in the Trayvon Martin shooting case. George Zimmerman is the man who admits to shooting the unarmed teen. He's back in custody after his bond was revoked on Friday. Our guest is NPR's Greg Allen. He's been following this story closely. You know, Greg, it just seemed that the judge was very annoyed with Mr. Zimmerman.

I just want to play a short clip from a tape of an exchange that the judge, circuit court Judge Kenneth Lester had with Mr. Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara. Here it is.


MARK O'MARA: Had I known about it the day before the hearing...

JUDGE KENNETH LESTER: That's not the issue.

O'MARA: ...it would have been moved out of their hands.

LESTER: That's not the issue. You know what the issue is. The issue is does your client get to sit there like a potted palm and let you lead me down the primrose path.

MARTIN: What about that? I mean...

ALLEN: I thought he was actually somewhat restrained. He did seem visibly, you know, angry. And the fact is, I think he felt he'd been misled. And more than misled, I mean, as the prosecutor said, it's clear that Shelly Zimmerman, George Zimmerman's wife, lied to you. Now, George Zimmerman himself did not testify there, but he sat there while his wife told the judge that I don't know how much money is in the account.

And from those phone conversations, it's hard to assume anything other than that she was not telling the truth that day.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you, what is the Zimmerman family, what is Mr. O'Mara saying about this to the judge or to the court, rather? Is he saying this is a misunderstanding or how does he - or did he offer an explanation...

ALLEN: Right, exactly.

MARTIN: ...for these conversations between Mr. Zimmerman and his wife and...

ALLEN: I think that - well, of course, a lot of this conversation took place before Mark O'Mara was representing George Zimmerman. He had other attorneys at that time and they didn't have a close connection with him. By the time O'Mara came on, I think he got matters in hand. He says that they did not understand exactly what was going on. He says also he didn't really have access to the money, that the money was - by the time that the hearing had happened, O'Mara had placed it in a trust fund so they couldn't have gotten to it.

And that's some of what he was saying to the judge in that conversation right before the clip that we played there. So he's saying, they were never going to use the money for anything but this and, you know, it was a misunderstanding. They didn't understand how important it was. But you can see what the judge's response was. It's like, hey, they misled me and that's all there is to it.

MARTIN: Is there the suggestion on the part of the prosecution that Mr. Zimmerman was trying to flee? Is that the suggestion here?

ALLEN: Well, they didn't come out and say that, but certainly the stuff about the second passport was somewhat, you know, damning that way. And the judge dismissed that, as we discussed, saying O'Mara had it. But the idea that they had this money, it did seem like that they were kind of keeping their options open. That's where you had to read these transcripts now.

And then, of course, those have not been examined by, you know, by the defense, so we're just getting the prosecution's side here. And so - but these are all issues that are likely now to come up further as we get into further hearings and maybe even into the trial.

MARTIN: And finally, before we let you go, we spoke to Mr. O'Mara when he first joined George Zimmerman's legal team and he said it could take up to a year for this trial to get under way from the time that we spoke to him. I know I'm asking you to speculate, but what is your sense of whether Mr. Zimmerman will have to remain in custody up through that period?

ALLEN: Well, you know, I think that - well, who knows? We'll see what the judge does. He's going to be very angry. I think it will be some time before they let him out, but I think as O'Mara says on their website, you know, he's expecting this not to go to trial until 2013, you know, so you're talking maybe a year or more before they go to trial. And that's a long time to be held in jail.

One other thing I'll note is that the big issue here is what this does for George Zimmerman's credibility before this judge. One of the first things that'll happen, if they actually start having hearings again, they'll go through some months of discovery, but then they'll probably have a hearing in which Mark O'Mara makes a motion to have the case dismissed on the stand your ground issue. The person who will decide whether the case is dismissed or not will be Judge Lester. And now that Judge Lester is - only has - the only thing he has to on now is George Zimmerman's story. Does he still have the same credibility he had before these recent revelations? That's the question.

MARTIN: NPR's Greg Allen is covering the Trayvon Martin case. He was kind enough to join us from his home office in Miami. Greg, thanks so much.

ALLEN: My pleasure, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.