Florida shooter used donations to pay bills

Zimmerman (right) is accused of fatally shooting unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. Photo / AP
Zimmerman (right) is accused of fatally shooting unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. Photo / AP

Neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman and his wife used money from an online fundraising website set up for their defence to pay off credit cards and other bills, according to jailhouse recordings released today.

Zimmerman is accused of fatally shooting unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin as the 17-year-old was heading home on February 26 from a late-night run to a convenience store in Sanford, Florida. The racially-charged case caused an uproar across the United States and set off a wave of protests.

Zimmerman was arrested on April 11 and released on bail April 23. He has been charged with second-degree murder.

A judge had initially set Zimmerman's bond at $150,000, but prosecutors say that figure relied on "false representations and statements" by the defendant and his wife about the amount of money he had access to.

Zimmerman was ordered back to jail after prosecutors argued he misled the court about having no money, despite tens of thousands of dollars in donated funds raised online.

In fact, records show that Zimmerman received a windfall of some $155,000, donated by well wishers who sought to help them with their legal bills.

In the recordings released Monday, Zimmerman can be heard cryptically instructing his wife Shellie to "pay off all the bills."

"Pay everything totally off - the Sam's Club card, everything except for those two," he told his wife in one of the phone calls, referring to two accounts that could not be paid online - his car insurance bill and water bills.

The recordings were released by the Seminole County court, along with transcripts, an affidavit and other court documents.

His attorney Mark O'Mara acknowledged last month that the misrepresentations by his client may have damaged his credibility but insisted that he still deserves to be freed again on bond, telling US media recently that in most matters Zimmerman "has been forthright and cooperative."

After revoking Zimmerman's bond, court officials have set a new bond hearing for him on June 29.

The case caused consternation, mainly over authorities' initial reluctance to press charges against Zimmerman, who insists that he acted in self defence.

Zimmerman told police he had been tracking Martin, whom he had viewed as suspicious, and shot and killed the teenager after being assaulted by him.

- AFP

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