SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - Two attorneys for George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, stepped down as his lawyers on Tuesday after saying they had lost contact with him and that he was no longer in Florida.
Lawyers Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig said they had not heard from Zimmerman since Sunday and expressed concern about his mental and physical health. They said he had taken several recent actions without their advice, including calling a special prosecutor in the case and a television journalist.
“We have lost contact with him,” Sonner told a news conference outside the Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford, Florida, the town where 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot.
“He’s gone on his own. I‘m not sure what he’s doing and who he’s talking to,” he said.
Zimmerman told police he shot Martin in self defense. He has not been charged in the case and went into hiding after the shooting triggered protests calling for his arrest.
Sanford police declined to arrest Zimmerman after the shooting, saying they found no evidence to contradict his account that he had acted in self-defense.
Police cited Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force against adversaries when they fear great bodily harm or death.
The decision by Zimmerman’s lawyers to step down marked the latest twist in a case that has captured national attention because of race and Florida’s controversial self-defense laws.
Martin was black and Zimmerman is white and Hispanic.
Uhrig said the lawyers were concerned about their former client’s mental and physical health. “Zimmerman is in our opinion not doing well emotionally,” he said.
Calling the investigation and the media attention “a terribly corrosive process,” Uhrig said Zimmerman may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and had reportedly lost weight.
“He probably watches more of this every day than he should,” Uhrig said. “He’s emotionally alone, and you might even say emotionally crippled.”
Martin’s family spokesman, Ryan Julison, said Trayvon Martin’s parents were concerned that Zimmerman could now be a flight risk if his own lawyers could not reach him.
“It’s just a bad omen. It doesn’t look good,” Julison said.
The lawyers said they would resume representing Zimmerman if he were to request their services. For the time being, however, both attorneys said they were concerned he was taking action in the case without their advice.
They said they were particularly worried that Zimmerman had telephoned the special prosecutor’s office and offered to answer questions. The prosecutor’s office told the attorneys about Zimmerman’s call and declined to meet or speak with him without his legal representation.
On Monday, Zimmerman launched a website to raise money for his legal defense and living expenses while he awaits the decision over possible charges against him.
The website, called therealgeorgezimmerman.com, offers one of the first publicly available comments from Zimmerman since he went into hiding after the shooting on February 26.
“I was involved in a life altering event which led me to become the subject of intense media coverage,” Zimmerman said.
Both lawyers said they had never met face-to-face with Zimmerman, but had been in regular contact with him before Sunday.
Uhrig said it is not unusual for attorneys who practice in central Florida, where millions of tourists travel to visit Disney World and Universal Studios theme parks, to represent clients from the other parts of the United States or Europe without meeting them personally.
“We do it all the time,” he said.
When asked about Zimmerman’s whereabouts, Uhrig said, “For those who are engaged in the late Easter egg hunt looking for him you can stop looking in Florida. Look much further away than that, which is also why we did not meet with him.”
“This case continues to get stranger as it goes on,” said David Weinstein, a former Florida state and federal prosecutor now in private practice in Miami.
Additional reporting by David Adams in Miami; Writing by Kevin Gray; editing by Dan Burns and Christopher Wilson