Friday we saw yet another crazy twist in the circus-like case of George Zimmerman. What started out as a simple hearing regarding whether to seal discovery evidence from the media turned into a blame game and strict orders by Judge Kenneth Lester that Zimmerman return to jail within 48 hours. Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda told the judge Zimmerman "misrepresented, misled, and deceived the court" at his bond hearing April 20 when he failed to turn over a second passport and, more importantly, failed to mention the fact that he raised $135,000 on a website prior to the hearing. So what happens now? Basically, Lester is starting from scratch, and once Zimmerman is back in custody, he'll hold a brand new bond hearing now that this information has come to light to decide whether to raise his bond, or revoke it completely.
After a few weeks of relative calm and quiet in this case that has captured the nation, Friday's news set a firestorm online and on TV with many Martin supporters, including Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump, calling for Zimmerman to remain in custody until the trial. Given the fact that Zimmerman actually had much more money at the time of the original bond hearing than he and his family led the court to believe, I think a higher bond is necessary and appropriate. The fact is, whether it was intentional or not, Zimmerman and his wife deceived the judge in April when they said they were a family of little means and unable to pay a high bond. When the judge calls a new hearing, the main question he'll want answered is how much money does Zimmerman have in his defense fund now. Based off that amount, he'll raise the bond accordingly.
However, a full revocation, in my opinion, is too severe and unnecessary. Remember, the purpose of a bond is to ensure the defendant will appear in court. Judges are mindful not to set bond so low that the defendant can potentially use the money to flee, which is why, given this extra money from his website, a higher bond is fully appropriate. Yet to revoke Zimmerman's bond and force him to remain in jail until the trial, which may not be until next year, is unnecessary. As his defense attorney, Mark O'Mara, reminded the court, Zimmerman has remained in constant contact, there have been no problems with his GPS monitoring and he has not been a flight risk. Even with the extra passport and extra money he had after the initial bond was set, Zimmerman never attempted to flee.
In terms of the second passport, that, to me, is less of a consideration in the judge's decision. He even said today that he was not swayed by arguments about the second passport, often routinely obtained by people who lose their passports. Plus, O'Mara said it was his fault the passport had not been turned in sooner as he simply forgot to hand it over to authorities until Friday.
The real question to me is whether Zimmerman will testify again at his new bond hearing. When Zimmerman testified the first time it was a complete shock, as criminal defendants almost never take the stand so early, if at all, in a case. Yet, O'Mara took that gamble the first time around so I wouldn't be surprised if Zimmerman testified once again, this time to try to appease the judge and explain he didn't intentionally lie to him, but that these oversights were an honest mistake. He'd likely claim, either on the stand, or in a written affidavit, that he did not consider the funds raised from the website his own money since it was going towards his defense and his attorney and that as soon as he realized he had this second passport, he turned it over to his attorney. The risk in having Zimmerman testify again is prosecutors can cross-examine him, and unlike last time, they'll be prepared and not flabbergasted if he takes the stand. Still, the prosecution can only cross-examine him within the scope of direct examination, so basically they can only ask him about the money in the fund and the passport.
The reason why the judge called Zimmerman back to jail is he wants the bond to accurately reflect his current financial circumstances. Yet any notion that the judge is livid over Zimmerman's lies and will take this lack of credibility into consideration as the case moves forward is a stretch. The fact that Zimmerman may have lied about his financial situation and passport are not relevant to the issue of whether he intentionally killed Trayvon Martin. The thousands of files of discovery, which thanks to Florida's full disclosure law and Lester's ruling Friday will now be made public, are much more relevant to whether he is guilty than his alleged deceit at the original bond hearing.
Follow Mari Fagel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MariFagel