SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - A Florida judge on Friday revoked bail for George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer charged with second-degree murder in the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, and ordered him to surrender within 48 hours.
The bail revocation came after prosecutors accused Zimmerman of withholding one of his two valid passports and said his wife did not tell the court about money donated for his legal defense.
Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. granted the prosecution motion to revoke the $150,000 bond Zimmerman put up in April to get out of jail while awaiting trial.
Zimmerman, 28, was given 48 hours to surrender to the Seminole County Sheriff.
The order was a surprising twist in a murder case that has riveted the United States and sparked widespread debate over guns, self-defense laws and U.S. race relations.
Zimmerman’s lawyer, Mark O’Mara, told Reuters after the hearing that he would request another bond hearing for Zimmerman after he complies with the order to surrender.
The whereabouts of Zimmerman have been unknown since his release from the John E. Polk Correctional Facility in Seminole County after he spent 11 nights there in April. His lawyer has declined to discuss his location or living arrangements, citing death threats and fears about his security.
Zimmerman, who has a white father and mother from Peru, is charged with fatally shooting 17-year-old Martin as the teenager walked through a gated community in Sanford, Florida, near Orlando, on February 26.
Police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, citing Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law, but the special prosecutor who was subsequently appointed charged Zimmerman with murder. He has pleaded not guilty and said he fired in self-defense.
Prosecutors alleged in their bid to get Zimmerman’s bond revoked that his wife knew about donations he had solicited for his defense on a website and collected through a PayPal account but did not mention the money at his bond hearing.
“The defendant’s wife lied to this court,” prosecutor Bernardo de la Rionda told the judge.
He was referring to the fact that Zimmerman had received about $200,000 from anonymous donors to fund his defense, even though his defense lawyer had previously described him as penniless.
De La Rionda also told the court that when Zimmerman surrendered his passport to the court at his April 20 bond hearing, he did so knowing that he had a second unexpired passport.
The motion to revoke Zimmerman’s bond cited transcripts of phone calls he made to his wife from the Seminole County jail on the facility’s recorded phone lines. In the calls, the Zimmermans spoke in code about the donated money and that Zimmerman instructed his wife to transfer money into her personal account, the motion said.
The motion also said Zimmerman obtained a passport in 2002. That passport, which expired in May 2012, was the one he turned in to the court during his April bond hearing and his lawyer told the judge it was his only passport.
But prosecutors said that in 2004 Zimmerman reported that passport had been lost or stolen and obtained a new one, which is valid until 2014. Zimmerman also discussed the passport with his wife in one of the recorded jailhouse calls, the motion said.
He told his wife he thought the passport was in a bag and she replied, “I have one for you in a safety deposit box,” the prosecutors said. “OK, you hold onto that,” Zimmerman allegedly told her.
Prosecutors in their motion said they believe O’Mara was unaware of his client’s misrepresentations. But that drew a pointed response from Lester.
“The issue is does your client get to sit there like a potted palm and lead you down the primrose path,” Lester asked O’Mara.
In remarks to reporters, Trayvon Martin family lawyer Benjamin Crump suggested that Zimmerman had undermined his own credibility at the original bond hearing.
“We fully expect that the special prosecutor will make George Zimmerman’s credibility be front and center in this entire case,” Crump said. “Whatever dishonesty that comes forth by George Zimmerman that they can prove, you can best believe, it will be the issue of this case.”
The decision on Zimmerman’s bail came at the end of a hearing originally set to consider motions to keep much of the evidence in the case against him under seal pending his trial, on a charge for which he faces 25 years to life.
The judge said he would rule in a month on whether all evidence in the case should be made public.
Zimmerman solicited money for his defense through a website, TheRealGeorgeZimmerman.com, that has since been taken down. It has been replaced by a new online site for contributions to Zimmerman’s defense called gzdefensefund.com .
Writing by Tom Brown; Additional reporting by Kevin Gray and Jane Sutton; Editing by Bill Trott