Zimmerman’s lawyers withdraw Trayvon Martin case

April 10, 2012

The two attorneys for George Zimmerman said Tuesday that they can no longer represent the neighborhood watch volunteer in the highly charged Trayvon Martin shooting case because they have lost contact with their onetime client.

At a late-afternoon news conference in Sanford, Fla., lawyers Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig expressed concern about Zimmerman’s emotional and physical well-being, saying he has taken actions without consulting them. They also said they do not know where Zimmerman is.

“You can stop looking in Florida,” Uhrig told reporters. “Look much further away than that.”

Special prosecutor Angela Corey, who is investigating the Martin shooting, announced Tuesday evening that she would hold a news conference about the case within 72 hours. A news release issued by her office said she will hold the event in Sanford or Jacksonville, Fla.

The new developments added a twist to a case that has provoked an uproar because Sanford police declined to charge Zimmerman after he fatally shot Martin on Feb. 26. The case has caused racial tension because Zimmerman is Hispanic and Martin was black, and all sides are awaiting a decision about whether Corey will file charges.

Corey said Monday that she would not bring the case before a grand jury, which was expected to convene this week. She said her decision to forgo the grand jury should not be viewed as a factor in determining whether charges will be filed.

Corey has indicated in recent weeks that she might not need a grand jury to bring charges against Zimmerman.

The lawyers said they stand by their assertions that Zimmerman acted in self-defense when he killed the 17-year-old, who was unarmed, but they acknowledged that they formed their impressions without meeting Zimmerman.

Sonner said he had been in daily contact with Zimmerman via e-mail, text message and phone but lost touch with him Sunday.

“I know his phone works,” Sonner said. “He won’t return my phone calls. He won’t return my texts. He won’t even give me a collect call.”

After Zimmerman’s attorneys withdrew from the case, Martin’s parents said they were worried that Zimmerman will flee.

“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,” said Benjamin Crump, the Martin family attorney. “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.”

Sonner and Uhrig said their former client had attempted to contact Corey. Sonner said that Zimmerman called the special prosecutor’s office about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday and that officials then called Sonner, saying they did not want to interview Zimmerman without his attorney present.

“We were a bit astonished” that Zimmerman had sought to reach the prosecutor, Uhrig said.

Zimmerman also called Sean Hannity of Fox News and launched a Web site without consulting them, the lawyers said. The site solicited donations and assured supporters that “they are receiving my full attention without any intermediaries.”

Sonner confirmed that the site was Zimmerman’s but said he was “operating it on his own.”

On the Web site, Zimmerman, 28, wrote: “I was involved in a life altering event which led me to become the subject of intense media coverage. 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.”

The Justice Department is also investigating the Martin shooting as a potential hate crime. Justice spokesman Xochitl Hinojosa said the department would not comment on the investigation.

The lawyers said Zimmerman is in hiding, sometimes by himself, and fears for his life, not even stepping outside to go to the grocery store. Uhrig said he thinks Zimmerman is suffering from post-traumatic stress.

“Perhaps the pressure of that pushed him a little over the edge and he reached the point where he said, ‘I’ll just take care of this myself,’ ” Uhrig said.

“Whatever his thought process was, he may explain at some later time,” Uhrig added. “Our thought process is, we are professionals . . . . We are not going to put ourselves out to the public as continuing representatives for a client unless he makes it clear to us that he wants us to be his representatives.”

Sonner said he would be willing to represent Zimmerman in the case if Zimmerman resumes contact with him.

Staff writer Stephanie McCrummen in Sanford, Fla., and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

More on this story:

Who is George Zimmerman?

Supporters of Zimmerman wary of speaking out, fearing public backlash

Tracy Martin recounts police version of her son’s death

Doubts arise about federal charges as Justice Department investigates case

Sari Horwitz covers the Justice Department and criminal justice issues nationwide for The Washington Post, where she has been a reporter for 30 years. Follow her @SariHorwitz.
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