Florida teen's shooter allegations spark row

George Zimmerman, left, and attorney Don West appear before Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester, Jr. during a bond hearing. Photo / AP
George Zimmerman, left, and attorney Don West appear before Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester, Jr. during a bond hearing. Photo / AP

The release by prosecutors of allegations of childhood molestation against Florida teen shooter George Zimmerman drew an angry response Monday from the murder suspect's lawyer.

Zimmerman is facing second degree murder charges for shooting dead unarmed black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February, and his defence attorney Mark O'Mara said the new allegations could prejudice his high-profile case.

"In her statements, Witness #9, who is George Zimmerman's cousin, alleges that Mr Zimmerman inappropriately touched her, beginning when she was six and Mr Zimmerman was almost eight, and that it continued on occasion until she was 16 and Mr Zimmerman was 17," read a statement from O'Mara, confirming allegations contained in an audio recording released earlier by prosecutors.

O'Mara filed a motion to block the release of the witness statements, but this was blocked by the judge last month.

The motion argued there was "substantial risk that public disclosure will lead to widespread hostile publicity which would substantially impair the defendant's fair trial rights."

Despite a plea to prosecutors on Monday morning not to release the documents until a separate motion calling for the replacement of the judge had been resolved, the prosecution proceeded with the public disclosure.

"Now that this statement is part of the public record, the defence will vigorously defend Mr Zimmerman against the allegations," O'Mara said.

The woman, identified in court documents only as "Witness 9," also said Zimmerman and his family frequently made racist comments about blacks, a claim bound to fuel the controversy surrounding the racially-charged case.

She told investigators Zimmerman began abusing her when she was six years old and he was about eight.

"He would put his hand under my pants, under my underwear," the witness said in an interview with investigators in the central Florida town of Sanford, where the February shooting took place.

In a voice tight with emotion, she said the abuse continued every time her family visited his, over a period of 10 years.

The witness said in the interview that she had contacted police after the shooting because she was afraid Zimmerman "may have done something because the kid was black."

She said Zimmerman and his family, who come from a mix of Hispanic and white backgrounds, "always made statements that they don't like black people if they don't act like white people. They like black people, if they act white."

An audio recording of the interview was released by the prosecution Monday, along with records of hundreds of Zimmerman's phone calls from jail.

The Martin shooting caused an uproar in the United States, mainly over the initial reluctance to press charges against Zimmerman, who insists he acted in self-defence under Florida's controversial "stand-your-ground" law.

Zimmerman, 28, told police he had been tracking Martin, whom he had viewed as suspicious, and shot and killed the teenager after being assaulted by him.

Witnesses reported seeing a scuffle but it is not clear who threw the first punch or what ensued.

A wave of protests spread across the country before police arrested Zimmerman six weeks after the shooting and charged him with second-degree murder.

Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty. He was released on bail earlier this month, but not before his initial bond was revoked after he was found to have lied about his financial situation.

- AFP

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