Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig, the lawyers who have been speaking for and providing legal representation for George Zimmerman, withdrew as his counsel Tuesday after citing poor communication with him and other factors in their decision. “We are withdrawing as counsel for Mr. Zimmerman,” said Sonner. “We have lost contact with him.”
The surprise announcement came as the two attorneys maintained their belief that Zimmerman acted in self-defense on Feb. 26, when he shot Trayvon Martin to death in a Sanford, Fla., gated community. Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood-watch volunteer, remains uncharged in the death and is in hiding. Special prosecutor Angela Corey announced Monday that she would make a decision on prosecuting him without the use of a grand jury.
(MORE: Trayvon Martin Case: Why the Grand Jury Decision Doesn’t Change Much)
Sonner said at an afternoon press conference that he and Uhrig had lost contact with Zimmerman over the past few days and that he had consistently failed to return phone calls and e-mails. At the same time, the lawyers also confirmed that Zimmerman had launched a website (therealgeorgezimmerman.com) on his own behalf to raise funds for his own defense and support. This, Uhrig said, was done without advice or communication with his legal counsel.
They also said they heard that Zimmerman spoke with Fox News commentator Sean Hannity directly rather than communicating through his attorneys, and the final straw was an attempt to speak with Corey’s office without them. “We were astonished, and we had some conversation with the prosecutor as well,” Uhrig said. He explained that Corey’s office clarified that it would not speak with someone who could potentially be charged with a crime without speaking to his attorneys.
Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Martin’s family, expressed surprise over the announcement and issued a statement to TIME.
Trayvon’s family was always concerned that Zimmerman doesn’t try to skirt his legal responsibilities and become a flight risk. We always wanted this before a judge and a jury. We hope that [authorities] will take this under consideration that this a flight risk. If they go to press charges, is he really going to face them?
Regarding Zimmerman’s website, Crump says:
It’s America, and he has a right to do what he wants to do. The family was a little taken aback that George said he had this life-changing occurrence [and needs money]. Well Trayvon Martin had a life-ending occurrence; his family had to do all this stuff [to get someone] who killed their child to face a judge and a jury. The fact that he has this website and he’s out to do this website, when you see the balance, Trayvon is dead. If it were the reverse, Trayvon would have been arrested by Day One.
(MORE: Trayvon Martin Case: Lawyer Alleges Police Chief, Prosecutor Met the Night of Killing)
Sonner and Uhrig say that Zimmerman could once again seek their counsel, but he would have to come to them and seek their help and make it clear that he would follow their professional advice. “We are open to George Zimmerman, but he’s gotta reach out to us,” Sonner said.
Although the two lawyers maintain that Zimmerman should not be charged, believing that evidence presented thus far supports the story he told police, they said he has made continuing to work with him impossible.
“We cannot ethically do that under the circumstances we find ourselves, where he is communicating with the media, contrary to our advice, and communicating with the prosecutor, contrary to our advice,” Sonner said.
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