ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. In Sanford, Florida, a judge has ruled that George Zimmerman can be released on $1 million bail and could be freed as early as today. That's good news for Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer charged with shooting and killing Trayvon Martin, but in his order setting bail, Judge Kenneth Lester had harsh words for the defendant, saying Zimmerman manipulated the legal system.
The judge also said there was evidence Zimmerman was preparing to flee to avoid prosecution, but his plans were thwarted. NPR's Greg Allen has been following the case. He joins me now from Miami and, Greg, if the judge thought Zimmerman was manipulating the system and was a flight risk, why did he grant him bail for a second time?
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Well, Melissa, you know, I think, in reading Judge Lester's ruling, it's pretty clear that he may not have granted bail to Zimmerman if he was left to his own devices. This is Judge Kenneth Lester, and in his order giving bail, he recounts the facts that surrounded Zimmerman's first bail hearing back in April. At that hearing, as you'll probably recall, Zimmerman's wife Shellie told the judge she and her husband had no legal assets to speak of, but it turns out, at the time, that they had at least $135,000 in an account that Zimmerman had set up for his legal defense.
Later, prosecutors showed the court transcripts of jailhouse conversations that showed the couple talking in code about how much money to withdraw from that account and where to put it. So then Judge Lester looked at all that, plus evidence that Zimmerman didn't disclose that he had a second passport in a safe deposit box and he concluded that, if it wasn't for the electronic monitoring that Zimmerman was being held under, he might have fled the country.
But all that said, the judge said his reading of judicial precedence shows that you can't permanently revoke bail because someone has violated the terms of their release. So Judge Lester said he disagrees with the legal conclusion, but he's duty-bound to follow it and he granted bail.
BLOCK: Now, Greg, some have argued that $1 million bail is pretty steep for a case that some people say may be dismissed, may never even go to trial.
ALLEN: Well, that's certainly what Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, has said. Last week, there was a bond hearing in Sanford and Mark O'Mara presented evidence at the court to bolster his client's claim that he acted in self-defense on that night in February when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin.
O'Mara brought forward testimony of witnesses who were there that night and said, during the fight, Zimmerman was the person who was repeatedly calling for help. Those were calls that we heard on a 911 call you might remember. And then they also submitted a medical report from a doctor that talked about cuts to Zimmerman's scalp and a broken nose he sustained, allegedly as part of that fight.
And all this began to make the case for Zimmerman's Stand Your Ground claim that he acted in self-defense. If that claim is upheld, the court will have to dismiss the case before it even goes to trial.
BLOCK: And that Stand Your Ground hearing would be before this same judge we've been talking about?
ALLEN: Exactly. And that's where it all kind of comes together. All this craziness with the legal defense fund and the judge's conclusion that Zimmerman was getting ready to jump bail and leave the country, that doesn't exactly help his credibility with the court. From all we've seen with the case so far, there really are no good witnesses about what happened right before the fight started between Zimmerman and the unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, what actually led to the confrontation or the fight.
So, if there is a Stand Your Ground hearing, it's likely that Zimmerman may have to testify in his own defense and one would have to assume that Judge Lester may be looking a bit more askance at whatever George Zimmerman has to say now.
BLOCK: And very briefly, Greg, this is the second time that Zimmerman has made bail. What's different now?
ALLEN: Well, the first time, it was $150,000. The judge says he's raising it to $1 million this time, not as a punishment, but to make sure that Zimmerman actually shows up, you know, because of the concerns that he might flee.
This afternoon, Zimmerman's lawyer, Mark O'Mara, released a statement in which he said his client would make bail, but he said he's concerned about how much of the money is being used up by this and he's issued a call for more contributions from George Zimmerman's supporters.
BLOCK: OK. NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Greg, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.