Shooter in Florida teen's death fears for his life

9:04 PM, Mar 26, 2012   |    comments
George Zimmerman (left, 2005 mug shot) and Trayvon Martin (family photo)
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The man who shot and killed an unarmed black teen in a gated Florida community remains in hiding and in fear for his life, his attorney and friends said, as almost two dozen protests were held nationwide calling for his arrest.

Anger against neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman mounted Monday, a month after he shot Trayvon Martin, 17, in what he told police was an act of self-defense. The New Black Panthers, a militant group, set a bounty of $10,000 for Zimmerman's arrest, and a line of elected and civil rights leaders called Trayvon a "martyr" and his death an "assassination."

Photo Gallery: Trayvon Martin photos

Twenty rallies were held Monday in cities from Baltimore to San Diego.

"He is one of the most reviled people in America at this moment," says Frank Farley, a Temple University psychologist who studies extreme behavior. "But we don't know enough about the case. Maybe he's a horrendous racist and murderer. Maybe not. This case has given a whole new meaning to guilty until proven innocent."

Farley and other legal experts decry what they call a rush to judgment in a case where not all the facts have been released. Zimmerman has not been charged with any crime.

In several television interviews Monday, Zimmerman's attorney, Craig Sonner, and his friend Joe Oliver, who is black, defended the 28-year-old man. They said he is not a racist. Police say Zimmerman is white; his father says he is Hispanic. Hispanics can be of any race.

Oliver said on Good Morning America that Zimmerman has "virtually lost his life now." Oliver told NBC News' TODAY show that Zimmerman cried for days after the shooting.

Trayvon's family said Monday that their son had recently been suspended from school for possessing traces of marijuana in his book bag. But authorities confirmed to the Associated Press that Trayvon did not have a juvenile offender record.

Details of the deadly night are trickling out. The Orlando Sentinel, citing unnamed police sources, reported Monday that Zimmerman says Trayvon punched him, climbed on top of him and slammed his head repeatedly into the sidewalk, leaving Zimmerman bloody and battered.

A Sanford police statement said the newspaper story was "consistent" with evidence turned over to prosecutors. A police report says Zimmerman's back was wet as if he had been on the ground and he had a bloody nose. The report says Zimmerman said, "I was yelling for someone to help me, but no one would help me."

Trayvon's family and attorney say Zimmerman was suspicious of the teen, who was on his way home from the store, because he was black. They say Zimmerman was the aggressor in the fight that led to Trayvon's death.

Little is known about Zimmerman, whose life has been turned upside-down since the shooting. He has moved out of his home. Police have been in touch with him, but have not provided him with any security, Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte said. Seminole State College where Zimmerman had been taking classes since 2003, said they were withdrawing him from enrollment out of concern for his safety and others.

Orlando attorney Jose Baez understands what Zimmerman is facing. Last summer, he represented Casey Anthony, the young mother acquitted of killing her toddler, Caylee, in one of the year's most sensational trials. Anthony has moved out of the Orlando area and away from the spotlight.

"Looking at Mr. Zimmerman, I think what he is doing right now is the right thing to do, mainly for his safety and for his case," Baez said. Baez would not speak directly about Anthony, but he said Zimmerman will probably be forever scarred.

"He'll never have the life he had before and that's something he needs to accept right away," Baez said. "He's dealing with severe psychological trauma."

Zimmerman is most likely facing financial and emotional stress, said Richard Rosenbaum, a Florida criminal defense attorney who has defended high profile clients such as Lionel Tate and Jose Conseco.

In high-profile cases, attorneys advise clients to keep away from the media, and avoid any comments - public and private - about the incident.

Defendants are also advised to turn off their mobile phones, disconnect any land lines, leave their home, and go into hiding.

More Trayvon Martin stories:

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Trayvon Martin case to go before grand jury

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Trayvon Martin's death renews Stand Your Ground debate

Who is George Zimmerman?

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Bubba the Love Sponge comments on Trayvon Martin

Obama: "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon"

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By Marisol Bello and Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY

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