Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester, Jr. will be removed from the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman by order of a ruling made today. The Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach granted this request made by Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, who did not believe Lester could be fair to his client.
Lester set Zimmerman’s bail at $1 million during a July 5 bond hearing. That hearing was scheduled after Zimmerman had been taken back into custody after previously being released on a $150,000 bond. During his original April 20 bond hearing, Zimmerman’s family members depicted themselves under oath as being destitute.
Subsequent evidence submitted to Judge Lester revealed that Zimmerman and his wife, Shellie Zimmerman, in reality had $130,000 in assets. Lester ordered Zimmerman back to jail to await a new hearing in order to set a bond amount appropriate to the couple’s means.
Shellie Zimmerman has since been charged with perjury for testifying on April 20 that she and her husband were penniless. Documentation shows she and her husband had been moving portions of the $130,000 they had collected from supporters between various accounts.
Judge Lester took the occasion of the second hearing to give his opinion of Zimmerman and his wife misleading the court. At the July 5 hearing, “the judge set Zimmerman’s bond at $1 million but also accused him of showing ‘blatant disregard for the judicial system’ and ‘manipulating the system for his own benefit,'” according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled that these statements were an indication that Judge Lester should be removed.
“Although many of the allegations in Zimmerman’s motion [for a new judge], standing alone, do not meet the legal sufficiency test, and while this is admittedly a close call,” the appelate panel stated in its opinion, “upon careful review we find that the allegations, taken together, meet the threshold test of legal sufficiency.”
Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson is likely to take over the case if this ruling stands.
TheGrio reached out for comment to Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda, who is prosecuting Zimmerman’s case, but his office declined to comment.
Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, responded by stating, “We appreciate the appellate court reviewing our petition and we believe it is the correct decision,” in a release to the press.
George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder for killing Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen, in Sanford, Florida on February 26. His immediate release under Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, which does not require retreat from a deadly threat, sparked protests nationwide demanding Zimmerman’s arrest. Zimmerman was arrested six weeks after the fatal incident.
A media advisory from the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit dated August 30 states that, “Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester has executed an order disqualifying himself from further proceedings in the State of Florida v. George Zimmerman.
“Chief Judge Alan Dickey has reassigned the case to the next judge in the normal rotation of the criminal division, Criminal Administrative Judge Debra Nelson,” the release continues. “Judge Nelson will preside over all future proceedings in State vs. Zimmerman.”
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb