As the special prosecutor plans to release new information within days about the controversial case involving 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot to death by a self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer.
Angela Corey said Tuesday the information will be released in the next three days. Her announcement came the same day that attorneys for George Zimmerman, who says he shot Martin in self-defense, told reporters they had lost contact with Zimmerman and no longer represent him.
“He has gone on his own. I’m not sure what he’s doing or who he’s talking to,” said Craig Sonner, Zimmerman’s former legal adviser. “If he wants us to come back as counsel, he will contact us.”
Sonner, who said the attorneys last were in touch with Zimmerman on Sunday, spoke to reporters in Florida with attorney Hal Uhrig.
Corey is deciding whether charges will be filed against Zimmerman in Martin’s death. However, Sonner said Wednesday he still believes Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense.
“I believe that he’s gotten a raw deal from the media, that the media has tried to convict him wrongfully,” he said. “When the facts come out, it’ll show he acted in self-defense, that the police department made the proper decision in not arresting him, as there was not probable cause to make the arrest.”
“Something changed around Sunday,” Sonner told reporters, “and (Zimmerman) cut off all contact and has started doing things without telling me he’s doing them.”
Uhrig said Tuesday Zimmerman had, on his own, called Sean Hannity of Fox News and Corey’s office.
“One of the things every defense attorney tells his client is, don’t talk to the prosecutors. Don’t talk to the cops. Frankly, don’t talk to anybody until we get control of the situation, and do it through counsel,” said Uhrig.
He added he was concerned about his former client’s “emotional and physical safety” and said Zimmerman could be suffering from “post-traumatic stress.”
Sonner said Wednesday he believes Zimmerman called Corey because “he wanted to give his side of the story to the prosecutors, and we were going to arrange for that to happen. … If he would have worked through me, I would have allowed him to make his statement.”
Zimmerman would not return phone calls so arrangements could be made for him to meet with the prosecutor, Sonner said.
The case has sparked a nationwide debate about race in America and Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force anywhere they feel a reasonable threat of death or serious injury. Thousands of protesters have descended on Sanford, where the shooting took place, to demand Zimmerman’s arrest.
Zimmerman’s whereabouts were not publicly known as of Wednesday. On Tuesday, Uhrig seemed to suggest he had left the state. “You can stop looking in Florida,” he told reporters. “Look much farther away than that.” Sonner would say only that Zimmerman is in the United States.
“We were certainly not the only ones who knew that he was not in Florida,” Uhrig said Wednesday. “That includes the prosecutor’s office, law enforcement and his family. … If he were going to flee, he wouldn’t be trying to come in.”
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Martin’s family, has expressed concern about Zimmerman being a flight risk, saying if he is charged, authorities must find him to hold him accountable.
But Uhrig on Wednesday dismissed that, noting that Zimmerman was attempting to meet with Corey. The prosecutors have his phone number, Uhrig said, and Zimmerman has theirs.
“He has simply distanced himself for safety purposes, and by making that statement, we were hopeful also that media or others might not be staking out family members or homes or other places and endangering other people in (the) search for him here in Florida.”
Tuesday night, Hannity confirmed he was in fact contacted by someone he believes was Zimmerman. They spoke on the phone and Hannity agreed not to report on the “contents of that conversation,” he said.
Legal experts called the public resignation of Zimmerman’s attorneys stunning.
“Oh, my God. This is just a train wreck of proportions I don’t even know where to begin,” said Mark Geragos, a prominent defense attorney “Who are you to be diagnosing your client’s mental state when you haven’t talked to him? This is inexplicable. … I don’t like to second-guess other lawyers in the eye of the storm. But this is frankly one of the most outrageous things I’ve witnessed.”
Jose Baez, who successfully defended Casey Anthony on murder charges in another high-profile case, said Zimmerman’s attorneys could have violated attorney-client privilege provisions.
“It’s unbelievable you’d get on television and talk about your client’s mental state,” said Baez. “The things you learn in the process of representing the client is confidential. Any conversation they had or nonconversations they had with George Zimmerman are completely protected. And the holder of this privilege is George Zimmerman, not the attorneys.”
Sunny Hostin, a former prosecutor and legal analyst, said Zimmerman’s lawyers’ statements could hurt his case.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Hostin. “As a prosecutor you’re looking at a case, and now I’m worried. Is George Zimmerman a flight risk? Can I get to him if I have to issue an arrest warrant? Maybe now I’m going to bring charges a little more quickly. And so this really harms George Zimmerman in the eyes of a prosecutor.”
Zimmerman’s attorneys responded to some of the criticism early Wednesday morning, saying Geragos and Baez’s claims were “factually incorrect.”
“I checked the list of opinions who I treasure,” Uhrig said. “They’re not on the list. Attorney-client privilege means something your client told you in confidence with the expectation you will not repeat it. It doesn’t mean repeating things that are already out in the public that are already known — known to other people, even just one other person.”
“We don’t think we’ve done anything improper or illegal or anything to hurt George Zimmerman,” he said. “To characterize what we did as quitting perhaps is not entirely accurate. We simply wanted to acknowledge the fact under the circumstances we could not ethically continue to tell the press or anybody else that we’re still representing him.”
Uhrig and Sonner said Zimmerman has not contacted them since the Tuesday news conference.
Although details of the February 26 shooting remain murky, what is known is that Martin, an African-American, ventured out from his father’s fiancee’s home in Sanford to get a snack at a nearby convenience store.
As he walked back with a bag of Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea, he was shot and killed by Zimmerman, who is White-Hispanic and who had called 911 to complain about a suspicious person in the neighborhood, according to authorities.
After the shooting, Sanford police questioned Zimmerman and released him without charges. Authorities have said Zimmerman was not immediately charged because there were no grounds, at the outset, to disprove his account that he’d acted to protect himself.
Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, predicted that both she and Zimmerman himself would be better off if he were arrested. “I think it will be a sense of relief on both ends,” she told CNN’s Piers Morgan. “He will have a chance to have his day in court, where he can plea for his self-defense, if that’s what he wants to use. But we just want him to be arrested so that he can come before a judge and jury.”