Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin dead and unleashed a controversy swirling around Florida’s “stand your ground” law, racism and racial profiling, has now suffered a new blow to his credibility in court: his wife has been arrested and charged with perjury. Will that touch on the credibility of Zimmerman himself?
At her husband’s bond hearing, Shellie Zimmerman was asked repeatedly about money. Among the questions: How much did the couple collect in donations through George Zimmerman’s website?
“Currently, I do not know,” Shellie Zimmerman replied. She and other family members described their financial situation as dire. Judge Kenneth Lester granted George Zimmerman $150,000 bond on the second-degree-murder charge he faces in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
But prosecutors say Shellie Zimmerman spent the days before that April hearing shifting tens of thousands of dollars out of her husband’s account, then deliberately lied to the judge.
On Tuesday, she was arrested on a perjury charge and booked into John E. Polk Correctional Facility. It’s the same jail her husband has called home since the deception was revealed earlier this month, leading the judge to revoke his bond.
“The prosecutor sent a strong message that you have to tell the truth in court because it is the whole basis of the American judicial system,” said Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Trayvon’s family, after learning of the new arrest.
Since Martin is dead, only Zimmerman can give a “live” account of what occurred that night. And from the start it was clear prosecutors would question his credibility. Now it has become easier for them — particularly given these details:
In an affidavit, prosecutors revealed new details about Shellie Zimmerman’s alleged efforts to hide money from the court.
Four days before she testified to having no knowledge of the funds, the affidavit says, Shellie Zimmerman began a series of transfers into her account — totaling $74,000 from April 16 to April 19.
The affidavit says about $47,000 more was transferred from George Zimmerman’s account to his sister’s. Shellie Zimmerman withdrew about $18,000 more in cash, prosecutors say.
Prosecutors say the Zimmermans used a rudimentary “code” to discuss the money in recorded jailhouse phone calls — referring to $100,000, for example, as “$100.” At least two of the calls, the state alleges, were made while Shellie Zimmerman and her husband’s sister were at a local credit union making the transactions.
Zimmerman told his wife to “pay off all the bills” with the money, prosecutors said, including an American Express card and a Sam’s Club card. He also instructed her on how to pay his bail.
According to the affidavit, after her husband was released on bond days after the hearing, she transferred more than $85,000 back into his account. A branch manager at their credit union told prosecutors he knew the couple and saw Shellie Zimmerman talking to her husband on the phone April 16.
The manager said he had helped Shellie Zimmerman transfer control of George Zimmerman’s account, at one point speaking directly to George Zimmerman by phone.
Michael Grieco, a Miami defense lawyer and former prosecutor, has been critical of the state’s case against George Zimmerman — but said prosecutors have “a pretty strong perjury case” against Shellie Zimmerman.
As a prosecutor in a perjury case, “you have to establish that they know that they are making a false statement.” Normally, that’s a challenge, he said, because the prosecutor can’t “get in someone’s head.”
But the phone recordings and bank statements make the job easier in this case, he said.
Grieco said Shellie Zimmerman’s perjury charge should have no impact on her husband’s murder prosecution.
“It is a completely isolated and independent incident,” he said.
But will it? The issue of what was said to the court and what the reality was will play out in the press…and then in court.