Shellie Zimmerman, 25, the wife of George Zimmerman–who faces a second-degree murder charge in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford on Feb. 26–was arrested on Tuesday and accused of lying after convincing a circuit court judge on April 20 that she and her husband had a lot less money than they in fact did. The Zimmerman’s claim that they had limited funds led the judge to release George Zimmerman on $150,000 bail.
The judge revoked bail on June 1, when it became clear that the Zimmermans had not only raised a considerable amount of money through Geroge’s website, but that shortly before the bond hearing, George or Shellie had shifted $74,000 from one of his accounts to his wife’s account, and another $47,000 to his sister’s account. (Shellie had access to the accounts.)
“If Mrs. Zimmerman intentionally structured the financial transactions in a manner to keep the offense under $10,000, not only may she have committed perjury in the state case, but she also may have run afoul of several federal statutes and could face serious federal criminal charges,” Jeffrey Neiman, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, wrote in an email to the Associated Press.
Shellie had claimed ignorance about how much money had been raised at the bond hearing, though prosecutors disclosed that at least $135,000 had already been raised through the Zimmerman website. BABC News reported that up to $200,000 had been raised. The wesbite was called therealgeorgezimmerman.com. It’s been taken offline. The perjury charge against Shellie Zimmerman is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. She was released on $1,000 bail. Georghe Zimmerman remains in jail in Seminole County pending a second bond hearing on June 29.
Meanwhile, in the same county and on the same day as Shellie Zimmerman’s arrest, the first public hearing of Gov. Rick Scott’s Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection offered a wide range of opinion on the “stand your ground” law, with roughly 100 people turning out to speak.
Among them were hardline supporters of the statute and the bereaved parents and spouses who’d lost loved ones to shooters who were never charged.
Longwood, near Sanford, was chosen for the panel’s first hearing because it’s near where 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed on Feb. 26.
Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, the panel’s chairwoman, said the charge of the task force is not to debate Trayvon Martin’s death or the case of George Zimmerman, who says he shot Martin in self-defense. National outrage over the lack of an arrest in the case prompted Scott to create the task force and to name Jacksonville State Attorney Angela Corey the special prosecutor in Martin’s case; she charged Zimmerman with second degree murder.
Carroll said the first public hearing was held here to give its community members some “closure” on the shooting death that has roiled the state and nation for months.
The task force’s morning session offered an overview of the law by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Krista Marx. Prosecutors, public defenders and law enforcement officials presented as well.
“Reasonable minds will vary,” said Marx – and differing opinions were then expressed.
The afternoon session was the public hearing. Among the speakers was state Sen. Chris Smith, incoming Senate Democratic Leader and leader of an independent panel investigating “stand your ground.” He called on the state to start to start keeping statistics on cases affected by the law.
“There are many instances where law enforcement used their discretion not to arrest and state attorneys used their discretion not to charge,” said Smith, “so we don’t know of the maybe thousands of times that ‘stand your ground’ was used and nothing ever happened.”
Ronald Vogt, a Seminole County resident who supports the law, said police officers couldn’t be everywhere.
“But there come[s] a point in time where I see a robbery or rape or something going down where I need to intervene, I think there’s a better probability of saving their life than losing my own. The ‘stand your ground’ law is the only way of entering in without my going to jail,” Vogt said. “I’m not afraid of dying – the only thing I fear is God.”
“This is a good law,” said B.J. Smith, a retired civil trial lawyer. “Please do not try and fix it.”
Other speakers called for changes or clarifications in “stand your ground,” including Martin’s parents.
Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, parents of the unarmed black teen who was shot killed less than four months ago, didn’t necessarily call for the law’s repeal. Fulton pleaded with the panel to at least “look at” the law in light of her son’s death.
Tracy Martin choked up as he said he’d be spending Father’s Day this year at the cemetery. He and Fulton also delivered 375,000 online petitions collected by Second Chance on Shoot First, a national campaign.
Listening to the stories “softened” the stances of panel members, Smith said.
Criminal attorney Mark Seiden, a task force member, said he was disappointed that more local citizens didn’t turn out. But Carroll was upbeat.
“From the comments that we heard from the sponsors of the law – and even they came to the forefront and said, ‘from what we heard, we need to make some changes, and I’ll be receptive’…I want to listen with an honest and open mind,” Carroll said.
Many of the speakers didn’t want to give up their right to defend themselves, she said, but also want a fair application of the law.
The panel is holding meetings statewide and will make recommendations to Scott and the Legislature about whether the law should be changed.
Carroll said the Smith task force recommendations had been placed on the task force’s web site, along with other resources and the opportunity to comment. The address is [email protected].
–FlaglerLive and the News Service of Florida