After his bond was revoked, George Zimmerman, right, returns to the John… (Joshua C. Cruey / Pool Photo )
Ever since George Zimmerman killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, his life has, more and more, come under the public’s microscope.
First, there was the relentless scrutiny of his personality and his background. Had he been violent before? Did he have a history of racism?
Now, on Monday, even more of Zimmerman’s life has been opened for public examination, with Florida prosecutors releasing tapes of jailhouse phone calls between the 28-year-old and his wife. In one of them, Zimmerman tells his wife, Shellie, to buy herself a bulletproof vest.
"As uncomfortable as it is, I want you wearing one," George Zimmerman told her, according to the Associated Press.
Right now, for prosecutors, the most relevant of these calls involve occasionally intimate conversations between George and Shellie Zimmerman about the money raised on a website set up for his defense. That website was launched after the killing prompted a national backlash, which ultimately led to second-degree murder charges.
Prosecutors say the couple lied to a judge about how much money they had, allowing Zimmerman to leave jail on a smaller bond and go into hiding while the case was prepared for trial. Zimmerman has since returned to jail for another bond hearing, scheduled to be held next week, and his wife has been arrested on suspicion of perjury.
Prosecutors say the calls show that the couple knew they had more money than they let on.
But the calls hint at a question that goes beyond the particulars of Zimmerman’s case — beyond the minutiae that will determine whether Shellie Zimmerman broke the law and whether George Zimmerman will go to prison for killing an unarmed teenager.
And that question is: Who are George Zimmerman’s supporters?
In the calls, Shellie Zimmerman tells her husband that the site crashed multiple times because of all the visitors. Those visitors left words of encouragement and, prosecutors say, more than $130,000 in donations.
“Oh, man, that feels good… that there are people in America that care,” Zimmerman told his wife, according to the Huffington Post.
Zimmerman has continued to receive donations since his defense set up an independently managed defense fund on May 3, his attorney said, with at least $37,000 more in contributions arriving since that time.
"Wow, that is awesome," Zimmerman said to his wife after she told him about the support in April, according to the AP. "Those people need to start vocalizing themselves."
Except that hasn’t happened. The donors have not been publicly disclosed, and Zimmerman’s support -- although apparently substantial, given the donations -- has never organized itself to any extent resembling the widespread national support that has coalesced around Trayvon Martin’s family.
On March 28, the Associated Press reported that the few people defending Zimmerman had remained out of sight and had spoken only reluctantly, fearing public backlash.
His family has also remained quiet, rarely granting interviews; Zimmerman’s brother spoke to Piers Morgan on CNN in March and his father, Robert Zimmerman, spoke with Fox 35 News Orlando.
“The family has had death threats -- the father and mother, George has had death threats,” Miguel Meza, who said he was Zimmerman’s cousin, told the AP in March. “Anything related to George is a target.”
A former neighbor in Virginia, George Hall, a retired Presbyterian minister, also spoke up in March in defense of Zimmerman -- a man he hadn’t lived next to for 11 years.
“Their parents taught them to treat everybody with respect,” Hall told the AP at the time. “I’m tired of hearing about this race thing. It could be an element in it ... but I never would have thought of him as being a racist. His father was in the Army and was a white American, and his mother was Peruvian. That makes him 50% Peruvian. A lot of stuff I hear, it irks me because people are drawing their own conclusions with very little evidence.”
Also included with the release of the jailhouse tapes on Monday was the detail that Zimmerman had 145 other phone conversations while in jail before his release in April. His attorney, Mark O’Mara, plans to argue against the release of those tapes next week.
“It is our contention that the calls are not only irrelevant to the charges against Mr. Zimmerman, but they could jeopardize friends and family of Mr. Zimmerman who are unrelated to the case,” Zimmerman’s defense said.
O’Mara has said there were “significant threats” made against Zimmerman that forced his client into hiding.
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