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Judge mulls whether to release Zimmerman on bond

By Rene Stutzman, The Orlando Sentinel –

SANFORD, Fla. — George Zimmerman’s defense attorney was expected to do the predictable thing: beg the judge’s forgiveness and ask him to again let the Neighborhood Watch volunteer go free until his trial on a second-degree murder charge.

Instead, Mark O’Mara swung for the fences. He put on a dramatic three-hour murder defense and submitted a pile of evidence designed to prove Zimmerman’s innocence.

(PHOTO: Defendant George Zimmerman, accused of shooting Trayvon Martin, appears with his attorney Mark O’Meara, right, during his second bond hearing in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Florida, Friday, June 29, 2012.)

It left the judge with hours of evidence to review and no chance to make a quick decision. It is not clear when Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. will announce his ruling.

The bottom line, according to O’Mara, is that Trayvon Martin beat and bloodied his client, pounded his head into a sidewalk and wound up “shot and killed because of his own doing.”

But according to prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda, 28-year-old Zimmerman was to blame for the violence that night. On Feb. 26, he acted like a wanna-be cop who saw someone in a hoodie, assumed Martin was a criminal and chased him down, de la Rionda said.

Zimmerman, at the center of one of the most prominent civil rights criminal cases in the country, sat silently next to O’Mara at the hearing.

For a time, it appeared that he would apologize to the judge and explain why he said nothing when his wife testified at an April 20 bond hearing that the couple was broke when they really had $130,000 in just-donated money from online supporters.

“I will submit him to your questioning,” O’Mara told the judge.

No you won’t, said the judge. You can put the defendant on the witness stand, Lester explained, and let him say what he wants, but then prosecutors will be free to cross-examine him.

After a brief whispered session, O’Mara announced that Zimmerman had nothing to say.

He would have been the last witness in a string that O’Mara hoped would convince the judge that Zimmerman had a legitimate fear for his life the night he killed Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old.

Kevin O’Rourke, a Sanford firefighter, said when he and his crew arrived, 45 percent of Zimmerman’s face and head was covered in blood.

“We spent a good five minutes cleaning him up,” said O’Rourke.

O’Mara played key pieces of audio and video for the judge. One was the 911 call in which someone can be heard screaming for help in the background.

Who was crying for help, O’Mara asked the defendant’s father.

“It was absolutely” his son, said Robert Zimmerman.

Why turn a bond hearing into a mini-trial, O’Mara was asked.

Because when the judge revoked Zimmerman’s bond four weeks ago, Lester wrote “… the evidence against him is strong.”

“With that thought in mind, I present to you the state’s weaknesses,” O’Mara said.

Prosecutors put on no evidence. De la Rionda relied on argument. Zimmerman’s injuries were not life threatening, he said; the voice crying for help was Martin’s, according to his mother; and some of Zimmerman’s statements to police cannot be true, De la Rionda said.

One example is Zimmerman’s claim that Martin had covered the defendant’s mouth and nose with his hands. That’s not possible, de la Rionda said, if Zimmerman really was the one crying for help.

He asked that the judge leave Zimmerman in jail.

O’Mara asked that he be released on the same $150,000 bail that Lester had ordered earlier.

Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, sat through the hearing. When O’Mara played the 911 call with the screams, Tracy Martin shook his head.

Sybrina Fulton had left the courtroom, but when O’Mara played it again a few moments later for Zimmerman’s father, she was back but showed no reaction.

After the hearing, Tracy Martin said his son was not the one who started the fight.

“We just feel he didn’t instigate anything,” he said. “We just feel he was minding his own business, walking from the store.”

The early part of the bond hearing was dominated by details about George and Shellie Zimmerman’s finances.

Shellie Zimmerman is now awaiting trial on a charge of perjury, accused of lying while testifying at her husband’s first bond hearing.

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