By Kyle Hightower
SANFORD, Fla. — The Trayvon Martin case took a bizarre turn Tuesday when George Zimmerman’s attorneys said they were dropping the neighborhood watch captain as a client, complaining they have lost all contact with him.
The lawyers portrayed Zimmerman as erratic and they expressed fear for his mental health under the pressure that has been building in the month since he shot and killed Martin, an unarmed black teenager.
“As of the last couple days he has not returned phone calls, text messages or emails,” attorney Craig Sonner said at a news conference outside the courthouse. “He’s gone on his own. I’m not sure what he’s doing or who he’s talking to. I cannot go forward speaking to the public about George Zimmerman and this case as representing him because I’ve lost contact with him.”
The split came as a special prosecutor neared a decision on whether to charge Zimmerman with a crime in the Feb. 26 shooting.
Sonner and colleague Hal Uhrig said they had not spoken with Zimmerman since Sunday. Since then, they said they learned he spoke to special prosecutor Angela Corey’s office and to Fox TV host Sean Hannity without consulting them in an attempt to give his side of the shooting. They said Corey refused to talk to Zimmerman without his attorneys’ consent and Hannity wouldn’t tell them what was discussed.
Zimmerman also set up his own website, even as the lawyers were creating one for him at his request.
Sonner and Uhrig said that they still believe in Zimmerman’s innocence and that they would probably represent him again if he contacted them and requested it. They said Zimmerman is in the U.S., but wouldn’t say where because they fear for his safety.
“This has been a terribly corrosive process. George Zimmerman, in our opinion, and from information made available to us, is not doing well emotionally, probably suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. We understand from others that he may have lost a lot of weight,” Uhrig said. “To handle it this way suggests that he may not be in complete control of what’s going on. We’re concerned for his emotional and physical safety.”
Ben Crump, an attorney for Martin’s family, said they are worried that Zimmerman might flee if he is charged.
“We’re just concerned that nobody knows where he is at. Nobody knows how to get to him,” Crump said.
Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney in Miami who is now in private practice, questioned the way the lawyers publicly cast doubt on Zimmerman’s mental stability.
“The lawyers have every right to withdraw, but it’s highly unusual, and it will be controversial, for counsel to describe their client’s erratic behavior,” Coffey said. “In the court of public opinion, the press conference was not helpful for George Zimmerman.”
In a case that has stirred a furious national debate over racial profiling and self-defense, Zimmerman, 28, shot Martin, 17, after he spotted the teen walking through the gated community in Sanford.
Zimmerman said Martin attacked him, claiming self-defense under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which gives people wide leeway to use deadly force.