ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - George Zimmerman, who is charged in the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, was accused by his female cousin of sexually molesting her for a decade beginning when she was 6 years old, according to new documents made public on Monday by prosecutors.
The name of the relative was deleted from an audio tape version of her witness statement that was released to the media. Identified only as Witness No. 9, she would be about age 27 now.
Zimmerman’s lawyer, Mark O‘Mara, confirmed the woman was the former neighborhood watch volunteer’s cousin.
It is not immediately clear why prosecutors released the molestation allegation or whether they plan to use it in court if Zimmerman goes on trial.
“Now that this statement is part of the public record, the defense will vigorously defend Mr. Zimmerman against the allegations,” O‘Mara said in a statement.
In a motion filed in June to keep the accusation under wraps, O‘Mara argued the statement by Witness 9 was uncorroborated and irrelevant to the murder case.
He wrote at the time that its disclosure would lead to “widespread hostile publicity which would substantially impair (Zimmerman‘s) fair trial rights.”
Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester, who is presiding over the case, ordered the document released under Florida’s public records law.
O‘Mara made an unsuccessful 11th hour attempt on Monday to stop the public release of the statement, filing a motion barely four minutes before prosecutors’ scheduled release of the audio recording.
He also filed a motion on Friday requesting the judge recuse himself, arguing that Lester has displayed bias and Zimmerman believes he will not be given a fair trial.
O‘Mara also sought to seal about 145 of Zimmerman’s jailhouse phone calls which were also released on Monday. The calls included conversations Zimmerman had with his wife and other family members and friends about his jail conditions, media handling and his finances.
Part of the woman’s statement was released last week in which she told investigators in a separate recorded statement that Zimmerman’s family was known to be racist, but she did not recall any specific statement or act by Zimmerman to illustrate the point.
Zimmerman is accused of second-degree murder in the February 26 shooting death of Martin. He claims he shot the 17-year-old in self-defense.
The woman told investigators during a taped interview that the last time Zimmerman molested her she was 16 and Zimmerman, a new high school graduate at the time, was temporarily living alone in a house his parents had just purchased in Lake Mary, Florida.
‘NOT AFRAID OF HIM’ NOW
Asked why she waited until March 20 of this year to tell her story to law enforcement, the woman said, “This is the first time in my life that I‘m not afraid of him ... he can’t get to me.”
The woman described Zimmerman molesting her during annual family get-togethers and trips.
The woman said she finally told her parents in 2005 when she was 20. She said her parents called Zimmerman to a meeting at a pizza restaurant in Lake Mary.
“Instead of talking about it, all he did was come in the room, come in the restaurant, he sat down on the end of the booth and he said ‘I‘m sorry’ and just got up and walked out ... my parents, their jaws dropped,” the woman said.
She said her mother discouraged her from taking further action at the time, saying it would be his word against hers, and she would wind up in jail.
In a separate development, a Zimmerman supporter and former neighbor, Frank Taaffe, told Reuters he planned to go door-to-door on Monday in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, the subdivision where Martin was gunned down, to collect signatures to protest any permanent memorial for Martin in the neighborhood.
Taaffe, echoing Zimmerman’s claim that he merely defended himself against Martin’s alleged aggression, said any memorial should await the conclusion of the trial.
“Why are we memorializing a potential - potential - aggressor?” Taaffe said.
A makeshift memorial set up at a neighborhood entrance after Martin’s death was removed last week by the city of Sanford after some residents complained they did not want the killing to define their neighborhood.
They also said the highly publicized case was bringing down property values, according to city manager Norton Bonaparte.
Bonaparte said the city packed up items left at the memorial and stored them in a local museum. He said he agreed to meet on Tuesday with a local group that wants a permanent memorial to Martin.
Editing by David Adams, Kevin Gray and Cynthia Osterman