News Column

Zimmerman Accused of Molested 'Witness 9' for Years

July 17, 2012

Rene Stutzman and Jeff Weiner

Zimmerman

The words of "witness 9" were dramatic: Murder suspect George Zimmerman sexually abused me for years while we were children, she told prosecutors.

Although her allegation is damning, it likely will play no role in Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial, defense lawyers agreed Monday.

"This isn't a molestation case. It's not relevant," said South Florida defense lawyer Michael Grieco.

Zimmerman, 28, killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, black 17-year-old, in Sanford Feb. 26, in what has become one of the most-watched criminal cases in the country.

Most of the evidence released by lawyers so far has dealt with what happened that night: what witnesses saw and heard and Zimmerman's claim of self-defense.

But Monday's allegation about sex abuse gave the case a dramatic and unexpected twist. It was the most compelling disclosure in what was otherwise a mostly mundane set of evidence -- all audio recordings --released by Special Prosecutor Angela Corey.

It included more than 140 phone calls Zimmerman made while locked in the Seminole County Jail between April 11 and 23.

They reveal:

Zimmerman prayed with Gainesville pastor Terry Jones, the evangelist who burned a Koran, setting off bloody demonstrations in Afghanistan, and talked him out of holding a pro-Zimmerman rally in Sanford.

"I was calling today to ask you, humbly, from one God-fearing sinner to the other, for time for healing, for not only for the City of Sanford, but for America," Zimmerman said. "I know your intentions are good ... I just ask that you allow the city to heal and America to heal."

Zimmerman is a chatty, controlling husband, sometimes very loving, sometimes obsessive and patronizing. He made 17 calls from jail during his first 24 hours there, 10 of them to his wife, Shellie. During one, he broke down and cried.

"It's, OK, Love. ... We're going to get out of this," she said.

"Yes, we will," he said.

Their earliest conversations are full of love and encouragement, but a few days later, they begin to have disagreements. "You tend to make a big issue about something and misinterpret things," he complains.

Zimmerman had a close, affectionate relationship with his sister, who calls him a variety of pet names, including "Love Bug."

CBS News sent Zimmerman's parents a bouquet of flowers.

"Are you serious? They've got some nerve," Zimmerman said.

"They said they know we are going through a difficult time and if we need someone to talk to we can call them," said his sister.

He spent time in jail writing letters to supporters using a tiny jail-issued pencil.

He at one point wanted to be a priest.

"Did Mark O'Mara tell you he wanted to be a priest," Shellie Zimmerman asked, "which is so cute because it is so much like you wanting to be a priest."

Witness 9's accusation about childhood sexual abuse was the only information released Monday by Corey that was not a jail phone call.

The young woman is not new to the case. Prosecutors released a statement from her several weeks ago in which she told authorities that Zimmerman does not like blacks. In the interview released Monday, she said Zimmerman and his family, "don't like black people if they don't act like white people. They like black people if they act white."

Had she seen George Zimmerman act with hostility toward a black person, she was asked.

No, she said.

The sexual abuse started when she was 6 and ended when she was 16, she told prosecutors. Zimmerman, she said, is about two years older than her.

The first time it happened they were both young children, she said. Her parents were moving to another state, and she and her sister went to stay with Zimmerman's family in Virginia.

"We would all lay in front of the TV" to watch movies, she said, "and he would reach under the blankets and try to do things. ... I would try to push him off, but he was bigger and stronger and older."

He touched her improperly, she said, and at least once, when she was 12, forced her to touch him.

She and her parents eventually confronted Zimmerman at an Orlando-area restaurant, she said. Zimmerman said he was sorry and left, she said.

In private, she said, Zimmerman was different than when he was around a group of people.

"He always was just, you know, very charming and personable with everyone," she said. "But he was different behind closed doors with me."

Investigators asked why she decided to come forward now.

"This is the first time in my life that I'm not afraid of him," she replied.

Defense attorney Mark O'Mara had made a last-minute attempt to block the release of the recordings, filing a motion Monday morning, asking that they be delayed, but Corey's office released them anyway. A pending court order required it.

On his website late Monday, O'Mara wrote that he would "vigorously defend" Zimmerman against the new allegation, acts that were alleged to take place before Zimmerman turned 18.

Said Grieco, "Let's say it's true -- and we don't know that it is -- what does that possibly have to do with the likelihood that Zimmerman committed (Trayvon's murder)?"

It's possible the state could use the woman's claims that Zimmerman is a racist, said WFTV-Channel 9 legal analyst Bill Sheaffer, but that could be rebutted by a number of defense witnesses who are expected to testify to the contrary.

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Trayvon's family, issued a brief statement, saying witness 9 could wind up as a state witness because her insight into the defendant's mentality "is very relevant to this trial."



Source: (c)2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services


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