Rene Stutzman and Jeff Weiner, Orlando Sentinel, March 5, 2013
Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend, the state’s most important witness in the George Zimmerman murder case, was caught in a lie, it was revealed Tuesday.
It was not the first piece of misinformation tied to her, but it was the most damaging to date and left prosecutors in a very awkward position.
They had to publicly acknowledge that their star witness had lied under oath and had to answer questions about what they intend to do about it.
Reporters asked: Will you charge the 19-year-old Miami woman with perjury?
The state’s lead prosecutor, Bernie de la Rionda, gave an ambiguous answer: “You can all read the law and make your own decision.”
The woman had told prosecutors she was in the hospital on the day of Trayvon’s funeral.
“In fact, she lied,” defense attorney Don West said.
The disclosure was one of two major developments Tuesday at what had been expected to be a dull hearing about the exchange of case evidence.
The other: Zimmerman’s lawyers will not hold a “stand your ground” hearing in April, one that could clear him of criminal wrongdoing before his trial.
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara made that announcement in court, later saying he had not yet decided whether to scrap it entirely or roll it into Zimmerman’s second-degree-murder trial set for June 10.
“Our real focus is getting ready for the trial,” O’Mara said.
What Zimmerman most wants is to be tried by a jury of his peers, O’Mara said, and with fewer than 100 days until trial, “There’s only time for one hearing, and that’s a jury trial. … We have precious little time.”
Zimmerman, a 29-year-old former Neighborhood Watch volunteer, called Sanford police Feb. 26, 2012, describing Trayvon as suspicious. Zimmerman shot the unarmed high-school junior a few minutes later, saying he fired in self-defense after the Miami Gardens 17-year-old punched him, broke his nose, then began pounding his head onto a sidewalk.
Sanford police found no witnesses to the initial confrontation, but Trayvon’s family attorney, Benjamin Crump, found something close: Trayvon’s girlfriend, identified in court records as “witness 8.” She told Crump she had been on the phone with Trayvon just before the shooting.
According to an interview Crump recorded after the shooting, the young woman said Trayvon told her a stranger was following him, and he was scared. Trayvon got away from him once, but the man reappeared, she said, and she heard Trayvon ask, “‘What are you following me for?’“
The man answered, “‘What are you doing here?’“ she said, and then she said the man must have pushed Trayvon because the phone went dead.
The woman gave de la Rionda a very similar account during a sworn statement April 2, and when his office wrote up its probable-cause affidavit, charging Zimmerman with second-degree murder, it rehashed her account but did not include her allegation that she heard Zimmerman push Trayvon.
Despite’s Tuesday’s revelation, there is no indication the woman lied about what she heard on the phone the evening Trayvon was shot. But she appears to have given Crump another piece of bad information: her age.
He told reporters in March, when he played excerpts from the recorded interview, that she was 16 years old. In fact, she was 18 at the time. Crump has said he did not knowingly misrepresent her age.