By Yamiche Alcindor
The Florida neighborhood watch volunteer charged with killing Trayvon Martin got a second chance Thursday when a judge set bail at $1 million.
In issuing his ruling, Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Lester said George Zimmerman manipulated the court during his first bond hearing in April and may have planned to flee with more than $130,000 collected through a personal website.
"This increased bail is not a punishment," Lester wrote. "It is meant to allay this court's concern that the defendant intended to flee the jurisdiction and a lesser amount would not ensure his presence in court."
Lester revoked Zimmerman's $150,000 bond last month after the state prosecutor accused Zimmerman and his wife of lying to the court about their financial assets during his initial bond hearing so Zimmerman could obtain a lower bond.
Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Martin on Feb. 26. He told police he shot the 17-year-old in self-defense after the teen repeatedly knocked his head to the ground. Martin's family says Zimmerman racially profiled the black teen and confronted him as he walked home from a convenience store unarmed.
Yesterday's ruling came days after a second three-hour bond hearing last week during which attorneys on both sides argued over the details of the case and Zimmerman's credibility.
Zimmerman instructed his wife on how to transfer money from his bank account into hers and his sister's while he was in jail, according to recordings of jail calls released by prosecutors last month.
Judge Lester sided largely with the state prosecutor's portrayal of Zimmerman as a liar who intentionally misled the court and may have been preparing to flee the country once out on bail. He rejected the notion put forth by Zimmerman's lawyer, Mark O'Mara, that Zimmerman lied about his finances because he didn't trust the system after being charged with second-degree murder.
"The defendant has flaunted the system," Lester wrote in his ruling. "The defendant tried to manipulate the system when he has been presented the opportunity to do so."
Zimmerman's wife, Shellie, 25, faces a perjury charge for allegedly lying about the couple's finances. She was arrested and briefly jailed before posting a $1,000 bond.
In making his decision, Lester wrote that he considered the nature and circumstances of the second-degree murder charge, the weight of the evidence against Zimmerman, and Zimmerman's community and family ties. He also took into account Zimmerman's financial resources and mental condition and weighed whether Zimmerman was a danger to his community.
While out on bond, Zimmerman must, among other things, remain in Seminole County, unless given approval to leave, must use an electronic monitoring device at his own expense and must stay away from the Orlando-Sanford International Airport, Lester wrote.
Getting bond twice is rare but Lester's ruling shows that he is a no-nonsense judge that takes this case very seriously, said Richard Rosenbaum, a criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale.
"There was a lot of negative language," Rosenbaum said of the order. "I was a little surprised that at the end he gave him a bond. But, it's such a high bond that it may be one that Zimmerman can't conquer."
The $1 million bond will be hard for Zimmerman to meet because he not only has to come up with 10% of the amount--$100,000--but Zimmerman will have to put up $1 million worth of assets as collateral in case he flees, Rosenbaum said.
"I doubt that Zimmerman can back a million dollar bond unless he has every relative and friend willing to put their houses up for him," he said.
Meanwhile, Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the parents of Trayvon Martin, issued a statement shortly after the ruling. "Trayvon's parents would rather that the killer of their unarmed child remain in jail until the trial," he said. "However, they respect the ruling of the court and the strong message that the judge sent that deference to judicial integrity is paramount to all court proceedings."