George Zimmerman had $200,000 support fund, attorney acknowledges

Last week, George Zimmerman's family told a Florida judge that they had very little money with which to help the alleged murderer make bond.

But as it turns out, Zimmerman had in fact raised more than $200,000 from supporters on a website and PayPal account he established. That new development, divulged by Zimmerman's attorney at a hearing Friday, could prompt Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester Jr. to increase the $150,000 bond he set earlier -- though the judge said that he wanted to know more about who controls the money before ruling on the matter.

Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the February slaying of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager whom Zimmerman encountered one evening and considered to be suspicious. Zimmerman, 28, acknowledges that he shot the 17-year-old, but says he did so in self-defense.

At a court hearing Friday morning, O'Mara told the judge that he found out about the funds after last week's bond hearing. Zimmerman was released from jail less than 72 hours later.

"I think that you needed to be aware" of the money, said O'Mara; the attorney told CNN about the money the night before.

Florida prosecutors had originally asked Lester to deny bond, or set it at $1 million, arguing that Zimmerman has a violent past. On Friday, Assistant State Atty. Bernardo de la Rionda said that the new information represented a "change in circumstances," and asked the court to raise the bond amount.

"The family members represented that they had no money, when in truth they really did," he told the judge. "...I don't know if they did that intentionally, or what."

Lester instead instructed O'Mara to give him more details about the PayPal account so that he can decide what his options are under the law.

"Before I can make a decision concerning this, I need to see who had control over that account," the judge said. "I may not have jurisdiction to tell anybody to do anything, or else I may."

The divulging of the support fund was the latest in a string of actions by Zimmerman that have raised the ire of Martin's family. Benjamin Crump, the lawyer for Martin's parents, told the Associated Press before the hearing that they hoped bail would be revoked.

"This is a bombshell that was dropped," Crump told the news service, adding that the parents were "offended" that the court was not made aware of the fund earlier.

Zimmerman took the stand at last week's bond hearing and apologized to Martin's family. He did not, however, mention the fund.

O'Mara said that the family members, at the time of their testimony, "didn't believe that [the money] was fully available to them. But it was there."

O'Mara said that Zimmerman had already used roughly $50,000 of the money "for living expenses -- rent or whatever," and that the remaining $150,000 was now in a separate trust account under O'Mara's control.

He added that the website, and all other aspects of Zimmerman's Internet presence, have now been taken offline.

On Sunday, when Zimmerman's family members came up with the $15,000 -- 10% of the total bond amount -- needed to secure Zimmerman's release with a bail bond, they used $5,000 of the money raised on the website, O'Mara said.

The matter came up in a hearing originally called to discuss news organizations' desire that documents in the court case not be sealed.

Lester said that from now on, court filings would be public records, unless the party filing them requested otherwise. He would determine whether to seal such documents on a case-by-case basis, the judge added.


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