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George Zimmerman legal team asks public for cash to fund defense

May 29, 2013|By Michael Muskal
  • George Zimmerman, defendant in the killing of Trayvon Martin, appeared in April in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla
George Zimmerman, defendant in the killing of Trayvon Martin, appeared… (Joe Burbank / MCT )

With just 12 days to go until jury selection is scheduled to begin in George Zimmerman’s trial on charges that he murdered an unarmed African American teenager in Florida, lawyers on Wednesday asked the public for money to help pay for the defense.

Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., in February 2012. Zimmerman has maintained that he acted in self-defense, while the prosecution contends that the former neighborhood watch volunteer had targeted Martin because he was black.

As the start of the trial approaches, the defense in the celebrated case has become more visible, filing motions and appearing on national cable television newscasts. On Wednesday, the defense posted a plea for more funds on its official website.

“We’ve calculated that we need another $120,000 to give George the defense he deserves,” the lawyers wrote  “At the barest minimum, we need $75,000 to give George a fighting chance.

“Had we declared indigency, George’s defense would end up costing Florida taxpayers more than $1,000,000. As it stands now, with a little extra support, we’re going to get through trial for less than half that figure, and we’ll have done it, not with taxpayer funds, but with the money generously donated by people from across the country who believe George is innocent and that he is being wrongly prosecuted,” the post says.

The defense has been raising money since Zimmerman was charged last year after demonstrations in Florida and in the rest of the country. Police had originally accepted Zimmerman’s argument that he acted in self-defense, but the outcry from Martin’s family and supporters led to the appointment of a special prosecutor who brought the second-degree murder charges.

According to the defense, there is less than $5,000 in a trust account and there are more than $20,000 in liabilities. In January, the defense reported more than $300,000 on hand.

Neither of the lawyers, Mark O’Mara and Don West, said they have been paid for their services. Among the expected expenses are transcripts and expert witnesses, they said.

The trial seems to be on course to begin on June 10, when jurors will be selected, though there are still some legal issues to be worked out. On Tuesday, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson rejected a defense request to delay the start of the trial.

The judge also ruled that some of Martin's texts and other social media statements will not be allowed in opening statements, though the material could be admitted later depending on how the court case evolves. The material includes comments about marijuana use and past fighting that the defense argues could have been a factor in the February confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin.

The judge also ruled against a defense request that the pool of 500 jury candidates be sequestered during jury selection. The defense argued that it feared the pool could be tainted by pre-trial publicity.

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