To those of you who don’t recognize Hal Uhrig…
The name will be familiar to people who followed the Casey Anthony coverage, because Uhrig offered analysis for Fox-owned WOFL-Channel 35.
These attorneys continue to make irresponsible statement to the media. Not only have they spoken recklessly about racial issues, enflaming passions and reinforcing sterotypes, but now they have thrown their own client, George Zimmerman, under the bus by elluding to his possible flight from justice.
On the April 9 edition of his Fox News and radio shows, Hannity said that he had an “off the record” conversation with Zimmerman.
UPDATE: On the April 9 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Sean Hannity Show Hannity said: “People are trying to make this all about George Zimmerman. And I spoke to George Zimmerman, and I’m not going to reveal the contents of that conversation, but I have confirmed yes, he was a mentor to minority children. Now if you were racist, I don’t think you’d be a mentor to minority children.”
With prosecutors saying they will announce a decision in the Trayvon Martin case by Friday, George Zimmerman appears to have struck out on his own.
He launched a website without telling his two attorneys, spoke to a talk show host and put in a call to the special prosecutor investigating him for the Feb. 26 shooting of Martin. After Zimmerman went AWOL from his lawyers for two days, the attorneys held a news conference late Tuesday afternoon and quit.
Hours later, special prosecutor Angela Corey announced she would make an important announcement in the case in the next 72 hours.
"I’d have to count how many text messages I sent saying: ‘Please call me. Please call me collect. Please text me. Please email me. Please, so we can go forward,’ " one of Zimmerman’s lawyers, Craig Sonner, said about his former client. "After I started getting calls from different people saying that he was giving statements to the media, calling the prosecutor’s office and not calling me, that’s when it started dawning on me that I wasn’t the attorney of record anymore."
Now, the parents of the Miami Gardens teenager Zimmerman shot say they fear the man their lawyers call the “neighborhood watch loose cannon” will run. For the first time, Sonner and co-counsel Hal Uhrig acknowledged that Zimmerman is “far from Florida,” but still inside the United States.
"He is well hidden," Sonner said.
They stressed that they never considered Zimmerman a flight risk, because he always cooperated with law enforcement and was easily reachable by phone. Even now, the attorneys say that a man who is poised to flee the country to avoid possible criminal charges would not check in with the prosecutors who appear poised to arrest him.
"We were a bit astounded," Uhrig said, stressing that he always tells clients not to talk to prosecutors, cops, reporters or anybody else. "Now he is telling people: ‘I don’t have an attorney. Those guys were just my legal advisers.’ I’m not sure what the difference is."
Sonner said Zimmerman was eager to tell the state attorney his side of the story. “He wanted to give his statement, and I was going to let him,” Sonner said. “But he was supposed to call me. Let me make the call. I hope he has found someone else to represent him.”
Zimmerman went into hiding after Sanford Police declined to arrest him for Martin’s shooting, sparking nationwide outrage.
Martin, 17, a junior at Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School, went for a walk to the store on a rainy Sunday night in Sanford, where he was visiting his father and his father’s girlfriend. Zimmerman called police, saying there was something suspicious about someone who walked too slowly in the rain, seemed high on drugs and appeared to be “looking about.”
About six minutes later, Martin was dead.
The neighborhood watch captain told police that Martin approached him from behind, that the two exchanged harsh words and that the boy allegedly hit him hard enough to break his nose. He said Martin slammed his head on the concrete, forcing Zimmerman to fire once with the semiautomatic handgun he was licensed to carry on a holster on his waist.
But the investigation that followed was so fraught with problems that it was not long before the case caught the attention of civil rights figures such as the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Intense pressure from around the country grew until Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor and the Sanford police chief took a leave of absence.
The FBI, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division are investigating the case.
Now that the probe is in the hands of the Jacksonville-based special prosecutor, Marin’s family attorneys believe an arrest is imminent, but they were concerned by the defense lawyers’ decision to withdraw from the case.
"The family is deeply concerned that George Zimmerman could pose a flight risk if he does indeed face charges in the murder of Trayvon Martin," family spokesman Ryan Julison said in a statement. "All the family has asked for from the very beginning is simple justice. It is their hope that George Zimmerman will face his legal responsibilities if arrested and charged."
Zimmerman’s former lawyers said things started going wrong when they heard through the media that their client had launched a website called “The Real George Zimmerman.” The site had a PayPal account to process donations, even though the attorneys were working with Zimmerman’s father to start a legal defense fund in the father’s name.
"On Sunday February 26th, I was involved in a life altering event which led me to become the subject of intense media coverage," Zimmerman wrote on his website. "As a result of the incident and subsequent media coverage, I have been forced to leave my home, my school, my employer, my family and ultimately, my entire life. This website’s sole purpose is to ensure my supporters they are receiving my full attention without any intermediaries."
Martin’s parents scoffed at the wording, noting that Trayvon suffered not a “life-altering” event, but “a life-ending one,” his father, Tracy Martin, said.
Zimmerman had to leave his home and job, but Martin won’t get to attend prom, graduate from high school or achieve any of his dreams, he said.
Zimmernman’s website features philosophical quotes from Thomas Paine, Edmund Burke and other historical figures.
A link marked “My race” leads to this quotation by Paine: “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.” From University of Vermont historian James W. Loewen, he posted: “Evidence must be located, not created, and opinions not backed by evidence cannot be given much weight.”
At first, Sonner said he was fine with Zimmerman launching his own website, even with a different fundraising account that went directly to his former client.
"That money is for George," Sonner said. "It’s not for me, and I don’t want my hands on it."
But then the attorneys found out Zimmerman had also reached out to Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity. Hannity had recently interviewed Zimmerman’s dad and asked sympathetic questions such as “Is it true George mentored a black teenager?”
Late Tuesday morning, Zimmerman called the office of special prosecutor Corey, the state attorney for Duval, Nassau and Clay counties. Her office refused his call, because prosecutors are not allowed to speak to suspects without their lawyers present, the lawyers said. The attorneys described a man who appears to be unraveling from the stress, the bounty put on his head by extremists and from more than 40 days hiding in a room.
"George Zimmerman is not doing well emotionally," Uhrig, one of his two former lawyers, said. "He probably has post traumatic stress disorder, and we understand from other people that he has lost a lot of weight. By him doing this, he may not be in control of what’s going on. We’re concerned."
Both lawyers made clear that if Zimmerman reaches out to them, they would be happy to take the case back: They believe in his innocence, they said. They stressed that Zimmerman owes them no money, because they had agreed to work for free until charges were filed.
"This is the last thing I want to do," Sonner said. "I am invested in this case. I put a lot of work into this case."
Even after publicly resigning, Uhrig proceeded to emphatically represent Zimmerman’s position, insisting that the media, members of Congress, activists and others had made an unfair rush to judgment.
He insisted that Martin “slinked along the back of buildings” in the gated community where the shooting occurred, and ultimately threw the first punch. The crime committed, he said, was battery against Zimmerman.
He mimicked the voice of U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla. - who has advocated for Zimmerman’s arrest - and railed against the people who came to Sanford “pumping their fists.”
"There are people who came to town who are only relevant in situations of racial strife," Uhrig said. "Their business model is racial division."
Florida State Attorney Angela Corey, who is handling the Trayvon Martin case, released a statement Tuesday saying she “is preparing to release new information regarding the Trayvon Martin shooting death investigation” at a press conference in the next 72 hours. The official statement from Corey came on the heels of an announcement by shooter George Zimmerman’s legal team, which said it was breaking off its relationship with Zimmerman and hasn’t spoken to him since Sunday. “I’m not sure … who he’s talking to,” attorney Craig Sonner said of Zimmerman. Zimmerman created a website Monday to solicit donations to help with legal costs.
[UPDATE: George Zimmerman’s former lawyers confirm the exchange that occurred between Loop 21 and a man who was allegedly George Zimmerman was 100% real, and that the man was actually George Zimmerman. This case gets much weirder each and every day that I have been following it. The full exchange is after the jump!]
The legal team representing Trayvon Martin’s shooter confirmed details exclusively given to Loop 21 on Monday night by a man claiming to be George Zimmerman.
Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner, who spoke outside of the Seminole County courthouse on Tuesday evening, cited Zimmerman’s reclusive behavior and his disregard for their legal advice, as one of several reasons for their departure.”He has gone on his own. I don’t know what he’s doing or who he’s talking to,” Sonner said. “I cannot represent a client who doesn’t stay in contact with me.”
Uhrig said the legal team had never met with Zimmerman face-to-face and that he was hard to reach by phone. In an exclusive, Loop 21 attempted to confirm a series of emails between Loop 21 contributor Wesley Lowery and a man claiming to be Zimmerman.
During the courthouse press conference, the lawyers confirmed Zimmerman gave an off-the-record interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, which Loop 21 was the first to report. The emails sent to Lowery on Monday night were the first to mention the Hannity interview.
Spokespeople for Hannity and Fox News have not responded to requests for comment. The man claiming to be Zimmerman did not reply to an email request for comment, immediately following his lawyers’ press conference.
Zimmerman is also said to have contacted state attorney Angela Corey on his own, and told someone in her office that he was not officially represented by Uhrig and Sonner.
On Monday, Corey announced she would not send the case to a grand jury. The decision of charges against Zimmerman is effectively in her hands. Legal analysts say the move suggests Zimmerman will not be charged with first-degree murder, which requires a grand jury indictment, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
Lawyers for the Martin family said they have been concerned that Zimmerman was a flight risk.
“Trayvon’s family was always concerned that Zimmerman doesn’t try to skirt his legal responsibilities,” said attorney Benjamin Crump, in a statement to Time following Tuesday’s press conference.
“We always wanted this before a judge and a jury. We hope that [authorities] will take this under consideration that this a flight risk. If they go to press charges, is he really going to face them?”
Earlier, Crump told Loop 21 that they remained hopeful after the state attorney’s decision against the grand jury.
"We’re viewing this as a positive thing," said Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump, in an interview with Loop 21 on Tuesday.
"A grand jury is a private proceeding. In the legal community, it’s well known that if you take a case to a grand jury you want it to die," Crump said. "By not doing that, we believe that (Corey) believes she has enough evidence for an arrest."
It’s been more than a month since, against the instruction of police, the 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer pursued and scuffled with Martin, a black Miami student, before shooting him to death, in a Sanford gated community. After news of the case went national, Zimmerman was dogged by allegations that he racially profiled the teen. Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
In the press conference announcing that they will no longer represent Zimmerman, his former attorneys cited their inability to maintain constant contact with him and his decision to start a fundraising website without their knowledge as part of their rationale.
Using that site — www.therealgeorgezimmerman.com — Loop 21 believes it was able to contact Zimmerman directly.
Zimmerman purchased the site Sunday, according to domain registration records available from GoDaddy.com.
A spokesperson for GoDaddy declined to comment on the site or who the domain is registered to, referring inquires to the information page for Domains by Proxy, a third party privacy organization (owned by Go Daddy founder Bob Parsons) that allows domain owners to remain anonymous by registering sites in the company’s name.
When NBC reporter and my fellow National Association of Black Journalists board member Mara Schiavocampo reported yesterday that George Zimmerman had started a website and was seeking contributions for his legal defense, I thought it was too good to be true.
But moments later, when Schiavocampo and fellow NBC and MSNBC reporters had confirmed the site’s authenticity with Zimmerman’s legal team, I threw off my skeptic’s hat and went into reporter mode.
Was it possible to further prove if it was Zimmerman behind this relatively new site? Could I track down contact information for him using it?
About 20 minutes later, after a series of online searches and digging, I found myself in the midst of a seven-email exchange with a site administrator claiming to be Zimmerman himself. Our correspondence was brief and it’s important to note that, without further confirmation from his legal team, it’s impossible to confirm 100 percent that it was Zimmerman with whom I was speaking.
Calls to the Zimmerman legal team seeking confirmation that the man behind these emails is George Zimmerman himself were not immediately returned. Multiple members of the legal team representing Trayvon’s family said this morning that they were not aware of Zimmerman speaking to any media outlets thus far.
The below account chronicles what we know to be confirmed, how I tracked down the site administrator claiming to be George Zimmerman and a complete account of our correspondence.