Judge: Zimmerman 'manipulated the court', new bond set at $1 million

This post has been updated.

In a harshly-worded order, the judge in the George Zimmerman case issued a written order Thursday accusing the 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer of “manipulating the court” and creating circumstances that could allow him to flee. Judge Kenneth Lester then set a new bond of $1 million.

Zimmerman is charged with second degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin, 17. His bond was revoked June 1st after prosecutors revealed he and his wife misled the court about their finances ahead of his April 20 bond hearing. At that time, bond was set at $150,000. It was later revealed that Zimmerman had raised more than $150,000 in donations through a website he created.

Judge Kenneth Lester heard arguments last Friday from Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, and from prosecutors, as to whether the original bond should be reinstated, new bond set, or, as the state wanted, no new bond granted at all. O’Mara argued at the second bond hearing that the state’s case was weak, and therefore the original bond should apply. Prosecutor Bernie De La Rionda countered that the state has significant evidence of Zimmerman’s guilt on second degree murder charges, and that the severity of the crime warrants a “no bond status.”

Lester reportedly wrote his order over the July 4th holiday. The nine-page order, released Thursday, reads like a legal brief, quoting extensive case law to justify raising Zimmerman’s bond to $1 million, and accusing him of “manipulating” both the court and his own lawyer.

In it, the judge notes that at the June 29 bond hearing, “substantial evidence” was presented by the defense regarding the Zimmermans’ finances “at the time immediately before” the initial bond hearing in April, along with evidence of Zimmerman’s “good behavior while on electronic monitoring” after his initial release, and “substantial evidence regarding the facts of the case itself in an effort to show that the State’s case against him is weak.” However, the judge notes that Zimmerman’s lawyers “did not offer any explanation of or justification for his deception that was subject to cross examination.”

O’Mara, during the June 29 hearing, asked the judge to allow Zimmerman to make a statement without being subject to cross examination by prosecutors — something Lester would not allow. Instead, Lester informed O’Mara that Zimmerman was free to testify “like anyone else,” but that in doing so, he would have to subject himself to questioning by the state attorney. In the order, Lester attacked both Zimmerman’s “participation in the presentation of false testimony at the initial bond hearing,” and O’Mara’s attempt to get Zimmerman “special treatment” before the court. “The Defendant chose as a matter of strategy, after consultation with his attorney, to not personally take the stand and testify under oath to give an explanation concerning the presentation of false testimony,” the judge writes. “The Defendant requested special treatment to carve out an exception as to when a Defendant is allowed to exercise the right of allocation,” or a statement directly to the judge. The judge, having rejected that, writes that the court has “yet to hear any sworn testimony as to the circumstances associated with the fraud upon the Court.”

And while O’Mara focused most of his presentation at the June 29 bond hearing on what he called the weakness of the state’s case against Zimmerman, Lester’s order states that the “presentation of evidence attacking the state’s case is of limited relevance at this stage in the proceedings.” Lester was careful to add that he reviewed all of the exhibits O’Mara presented, including 911 calls and witness statements that O’Mara believes bolster Zimmerman’s claims of self-defense, and grainy stills from the 7-11 surveillance video showing Martin purchasing the Skittles candy and iced tea later found with his body. But he concluded that the one fact not in dispute is “that the defendant shot and killed the victim,” adding that “the only issue is the viability of the defendant’s self-defense / Stand Your Ground claim.”

Instead, what Lester focuses on in his order is his contention that “under any definition, the defendant has flaunted the system,” adding that Zimmerman’s lawyers “attempted to portray the defendant as being a confused young man who was fearful and experienced a moment of weakness and who may also have acted out of a sense of ‘betrayal’ by the system. Based upon all of the evidence presented,” the judge’s order continues, “this Court finds the opposite.”

Lester’s order states that Zimmerman “has tried to manipulate the system when he has been presented the opportunity to do so. He is an adult by every legal definition. Trayvon Martin is the only male whose youth is relevant to this case. The Defendant has taken courses in criminal justice with the intention of becoming a police officer, an attorney, a judge, or a magistrate like his father. He has been arrested before, having entered and successfully completed a pre-trial intervention program. He has also obtained an injunction and had an injunction entered against him,” which Lester notes had “obviously been dissolved at some point for him to have validly obtained a permit to carry the firearm used to shoot Trayvon Martin.”

Lester goes on to note that Zimmerman “also had the wherewithal to set up a website to collect donations to help defray the costs of his defense. Thus, before this tragic incident, the Defendant had a very sophisticated knowledge of the criminal justice system over and above that of the average, law-abiding citizen.”

The order goes on to dismiss O’Mara’s claims that Zimmerman felt a sense of betrayal by the system, calling that claim “unreasonable.” His order notes that Zimmerman cooperated with police, and clearly understood he was being investigated for homicide, and that no evidence has been presented indicating that he was “misled into believing that he would not be charged with a crime.”

“Contrary to being betrayed,” the judge writes, “the Defendant received normal, reasonable treatment and was granted reasonable bail.”