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George Zimmerman's attorneys quit; announcement in case imminent

Two attorneys say they've lost contact with Zimmerman and are concerned for his well-being. The special prosecutor says she'll make an announcement in the Trayvon Martin case within 72 hours.

April 10, 2012|Staff and Wire Services
  • Attorneys Craig Sonner, left, and Hal Uhrig talk to the media in Sanford, Fla., on Tuesday.
Attorneys Craig Sonner, left, and Hal Uhrig talk to the media in Sanford,… (Red Huber, Orlando Sentinel )

SANFORD, Fla. — The Trayvon Martin case took a bizarre turn Tuesday when George Zimmerman's attorneys quit, complaining that they had lost all contact with him and that he called the prosecutor and talked to a TV host after they told him not to speak to anyone.

And late Tuesday, special prosecutor Angela Corey said she would announce “new information” about the controversial case within 72 hours. She did not elaborate.

Attorneys Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig portrayed the former neighborhood watch volunteer as erratic and his mental state as shaky, and they expressed fear for his health under the pressure that has been building since he shot and killed Martin, an unarmed black teenager, on Feb. 26.

"As of the last couple days he has not returned phone calls, text messages or emails," Sonner said at a news conference outside Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford, Fla. "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 with him."

Uhrig added, "Whenever we call him, the call goes to voicemail."

The attorneys said they had not spoken with Zimmerman since Sunday. Since then, they said, they had learned that he spoke to Corey's office and to Fox News TV host Sean Hannity without consulting them, in an attempt to give his side of the shooting. They said Corey refused to talk to Zimmerman without his attorneys' consent and Hannity wouldn't tell them what was discussed.

Uhrig said the final straw was Zimmerman's call to Corey, which came at 10:55 a.m. Tuesday.

"We were a bit astonished," Uhrig said. He praised the prosecutor for refusing to speak with Zimmerman unless he had legal counsel.

On Monday, Corey said she would bypass a grand jury and decide on her own whether to charge Zimmerman, who contends that he was acting in self-defense. The case has raised questions about racial profiling. Martin was black; Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is from Peru. The case has also highlighted Florida's "stand your ground" law, which allows anyone who feels threatened to use lethal force.

Zimmerman, 28, shot and killed Martin, 17, after reporting him as a suspicious person in a gated Sanford community. Martin was walking to the home of his father's fiancee, who lives in the community. They fought, and Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense.

Both lawyers were adamant Tuesday that they believe Zimmerman is innocent, and when questioned by reporters they defended at length his actions on the night of the shooting.

Zimmerman has been in hiding since the incident. His former attorneys said he had left the state but was still in the U.S.

"I will not tell you where George Zimmerman is because I don't know," Uhrig said.

The attorney for Martin's family, Benjamin Crump, said he was alarmed by that news.

"The family is deeply concerned that George Zimmerman is unaccounted for," Crump said. "They worry he may be a flight risk if he does indeed face charges."

Crump said that the situation could have been avoided if police had "just simply arrested him."

Zimmerman surprised his former attorneys in another way: He set up his own website even as they were setting up one for him at his request. On the website, Zimmerman says he wants "to ensure my supporters they are receiving my full attention without any intermediaries." The site allows visitors to give Zimmerman money for living expenses and legal bills.

Uhrig said Zimmerman had been under extreme stress.

"This has been a terribly corrosive process," he said. "George Zimmerman, in our opinion, and from information made available to us, is not doing well emotionally, probably suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. We understand from others that he may have lost a lot of weight. ... We're concerned for his emotional and physical safety."

Sonner said he would be willing to represent Zimmerman again in the future, if Zimmerman were to get back in contact with him.

The lawyers admitted they had an unusual business arrangement. Neither had met Zimmerman; they communicated strictly by phone and email.

And Zimmerman had paid them nothing yet, Sonner said.

The arrangement was that unless the special prosecutor filed charges, Sonner would work for free. In the last few weeks, he and Uhrig have traveled to New York at least twice to appear on network news shows.

The Associated Press, the Orlando Sentinel and Times staff writer Steve Padilla contributed to this report.

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