George Zimmerman attempted to choke his girlfriend 10 days ago and has threatened suicide because he feels he has “nothing to lose,” prosecutors told a Florida judge today.
Wearing black prison garb and with his hands cuffed in front of him, the 30-year-old killer—who had hoped to fade quietly back into society following his acquittal for the murder of Trayvon Martin in July—cut a lonely figure as he appeared before Seminole County Judge Fred Schott via video link from jail.
In a 12-minute hearing attended only by lawyers, court staff, and a former neighbor, Zimmerman, who was arrested for allegedly threatening his girlfriend with a shotgun at her home on Monday, blinked hard and listened intently as a prosecutor described him as a potential threat to public safety.
Samantha Scheibe, 27, with whom Zimmerman had lived since August until their fiery break-up Monday, has told police “that there was a prior domestic violence incident that occurred approximately a week and a half ago that involved a choking,” assistant state attorney Lymary Munoz told Judge Schott.
Scheibe did not report the alleged choking to police, said the prosecutor, adding, however: “She did fear for her safety on the day of this incident. She indicated that they had been discussing breaking up. He also has mentioned suicide in the recent past. Due to those factors and the defendant indicating at the time he was going to commit suicide, that he had nothing to lose, we feel that the victim’s safety and the community’s safety is our paramount concern.”
Zimmerman is charged with felony aggravated assault, plus one count of misdemeanor battery—for allegedly pushing Scheibe out of her own front door during their row and barricading himself inside—and another of criminal mischief, for allegedly smashing some of her possessions including a glass table.
“This is a volatile situation potentially,” said Judge Schott as he thrashed over the question of whether Zimmerman should be permitted to return to the property to retrieve his belongings accompanied by law enforcement officers, or barred altogether. He decided on the latter and set bond for $9,000—considerably less than the $50,000 the prosecution had requested—and ordered that Zimmerman to wear an electronic monitoring cuff, plus additional conditions.
Zimmerman may not travel outside Florida nor have contact with weapons, ammunition, or Scheibe: “not in person, not by phone, fax, mail, tweet, Facebook—no contact at all,” the judge emphasized. The no-weapons rule, the judge added, is “in part for her safety and in part for your own safety” and is based on the “previous, unreported claim of battery by strangulation.”
Zimmerman spoke only to confirm his understanding of the judge’s instructions and his rights, repeating several times “Yes, your honor” and, when asked if he had any questions, a “No, your honor.” Told that he must also relinquish his passport, the judge asked whether he had yet had it returned to him since the murder trial. “I’m not sure, your honor,” said Zimmerman, who thanked the judge as the hearing closed.
Reportedly mired in debt to the tune of $2.5 million, Zimmerman—who until September was represented by trial lawyer Mark O’Mara—this time relied on a free public defender to do his bidding. Zimmerman is “maintaining his innocence,” said chief public defender Jeff Dowdy outside court, but “of course he’s sorry about what happened.”
He is expected to bond out of jail on or by Wednesday morning and has been ordered to reappear before the court, and Judge Jessica Recksiedler, on January 7.
Zimmerman’s latest legal woes unfolded two months after police were called to the home of his parents-in-law in Lake Mary, Florida, by his estranged wife, Shellie, who alleged that he had smashed her iPad over his knee and punched her father on the nose. Shellie Zimmerman had days earlier announced that she was divorcing him, claiming that he had become reckless and selfish and that she now had doubts over his innocence in the Trayvon Martin case. “I don’t know the person that I’ve been married to,” she said.
Zimmerman confronted Martin, 17, mistaking the boy for a potential burglar as the boy walked through his gated community in Sanford, Florida, en route to his father’s home in February 2012. In the struggle that followed, Zimmerman pulled his gun and shot Martin dead, claiming that he did so in self-defense.
At his trial, prosecutors characterized the shooter as a neighborhood busybody and “wannabe cop” who made wrongful assumptions based on the boy’s appearance; Martin was African American and wore a hoodie pulled over his head.
Dowdy, who met with Zimmerman for 45 minutes prior to today’s hearing, said outside court that his client was “doing fine, as well as can be expected.”
“Is this as stressful event for him? Probably,” fellow public defender Daniel Megaro added. “But I don’t think he’s going to hurt himself or anybody else.”