Attorneys say Zimmerman is isolated, stressed out
SANFORD, Fla. (AP) – The man who shot and
killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is said to be losing weight and
suffering from high levels of stress from the intense public scrutiny he
is under, his former lawyers said. Meanwhile, a special prosecutor said
she will soon make an announcement in the case and the nation's
attorney general vowed separately to take action if evidence warrants
“He is largely alone. You
might even say he is emotionally crippled by virtue of the pressure of
this case,” said Hal Uhrig, a former lawyer for George Zimmerman. The
protests and the profound isolation of going into hiding may have pushed
him “a little bit over the edge,” said Uhrig and his colleague, Craig
The two attorneys announced
Tuesday they no longer were representing the neighborhood watch
volunteer because they haven't heard from him since Sunday.
“As of the last couple
days, he has not returned phone calls, text messages or emails,” Sonner
said. “He's gone on his own. I'm not sure what he's doing or who he's
talking to. I cannot go forward speaking to the public about George
Zimmerman and this case as representing him because I've lost contact
The attorneys said that,
against their advice, Zimmerman contacted special prosecutor Angela
Corey, who will decide if he should face charges, but prosecutors in her
office refused to talk to him without his lawyers present.
“To handle it this way,
suggests that he may not be in complete control of what's going on.
We're concerned for his emotional and physical safety,” Uhrig said.
A spokeswoman for Corey's
office didn't respond to phone and email messages requesting comment,
although late Tuesday Corey released a statement saying she would make
an announcement on the case within 72 hours. The statement did not
specify what new development in the case would be released.
On Wednesday, Attorney
General Eric Holder also said the Justice Department is conducting a
thorough and independent review of the case after launching its own
investigation three weeks ago. During comments before a civil rights
organization founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, Holder said that
preventing and combating youth violence and victimization is a top
priority of his department.
“If we find evidence of a
potential federal criminal civil rights crime, we will take appropriate
action,” Holder said during the convention of Sharpton's National Action
Zimmerman said he shot
Martin in self-defense after following the teenager in a Sanford, Fla. a
gated community outside Orlando on Feb. 26. He said he was returning to
his truck when Martin attacked him and that he shot the unarmed teen
during the fight. He wasn't arrested partly because of Florida's “stand
your ground” self-defense law.
The lack of an arrest has
led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and
the laws of self-defense. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is
Hispanic. Martin was black.
Zimmerman is unable to see a
psychologist because he could be spotted, the attorneys said. A bounty
for his arrest has been issued by the New Black Panther Party. Plus, he
is anxious about possible charges if the special prosecutor believes he
committed a crime, his former attorneys said.
Zimmerman also has been in
touch with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity, who declined to
reveal Tuesday evening what was said.
Uhrig said after they found
out that news, the “final straw” came when they learned Zimmerman
contacted Corey's office and said he wanted to meet. Uhrig said he told
her he no longer had attorneys whom he called “legal advisers”
Uhrig said they were “a bit
astonished” that he had contacted her on his own and that Corey and her
team refused to talk to a potential defendant or suspect without
Zimmerman's current lack of
an attorney shouldn't affect the speed of Corey's decision-making since
any decent lawyer would advise a client not to talk to prosecutors,
said Roy Kahn, a defense attorney in Miami.
“It would not be in a
client's best interest to give any statement before it's his time to
testify at trial,” Kahn said. “Even if I believe he's 100 percent
innocent … my advice to the client would be, 'Save it for the trial.
It can't help you.'”
Sonner, the first attorney
Zimmerman contacted after the shooting, said he agreed to take the case
on a pro bono basis until Zimmerman it's determined if he's charged. He
said he has never talked to Zimmerman face-to-face, only on the phone,
and that the 28-year-old man has gone into hiding but that he believes
he's still in the U.S.
Both attorneys said they'd be willing to represent him again if he asks.
Ben Crump, an attorney for
Martin's family, said they're concerned that Zimmerman could be a flight
risk if he is charged with a crime since his former attorneys don't
know how to contact him.
“At this point, we're just concerned that nobody knows where he is at. Nobody knows how to get to him,” Crump said.
Meanwhile, tensions were
rising in Sanford as townspeople awaited the prosecutor's decision.
Someone shot up an unoccupied police car early Tuesday as it sat outside
the neighborhood where Martin was killed. And a demonstration by
college students closed the town's police station Monday.
Some residents said they
worry there will be violence if Corey decides not to charge Zimmerman.
Many in town believe she will announce her decision soon.
Police aren't saying what, if any, precautions they are taking.
Zimmerman set up a website
therealgeorgezimmerman.com to collect money from his supporters, but the
attorneys didn't know about it until they started getting questions
from the news media, Sonner said. They had worked with his father and
others to set up a different account and when they started getting
questions about the new site, Uhrig assumed it was “bogus.”
Since then, they determined the site is legitimate.
Sonner said he stands
behind his statements that Zimmerman did act in self-defense, however,
“I just can't proceed to represent a client who doesn't stay in contact
Kendall Coffey, a former
U.S. Attorney in Miami, said it is unusual for attorneys to hold a news
conference to explain why they no longer are representing a client.
“The lawyers have every
right to withdraw, but it's highly unusual, and it will be
controversial, for counsel to describe their client's erratic behavior,”
said Coffey, who is now in private practice. “In the court of public
opinion, the press conference was not helpful for George Zimmerman.”
Speaking Wednesday on NBC's
“Today” show, Sonner and Uhrig defended going public with their
decision to stop representing Zimmerman, saying they didn't feel it was
right to speak for him when they weren't in touch with him. Sonner also
said Zimmerman was hiding in a place “where he won't be found.”
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