Despite a last-minute rush to the courthouse to file a motion to delay a court’s ruling, the Duval County State Attorney on Monday released a recorded statement from a woman who says George Zimmerman molested her when they were both children -- beginning when she just six years old.
The families lived in different states, but the incidents took place during annual visits for as long as 10 years, she said.
The woman, whose name was not released, called investigators just days after the shooting of Trayvon Martin to report that Zimmerman and his family were racists who disliked blacks. As investigators probed weeks later, she made even more damaging allegations.
The recordings, taped March 20, make clear that the woman called the Seminole County State Attorney’s Office on March 19 with information she wanted to share. She said with investigators Jim Rick and Jim Post.
The woman said she is two years younger than him, and, from the statement, it’s clear their families were close. When she was 6 and her family was in the process of moving from Louisiana to Orlando, she and her sister were sent to stay with the Zimmermans at their home in Virginia, she said.
The children would hang out on sofas under blankets watching TV, and Zimmerman, she claims, would use the opportunity to fondle her and penetrate her with his fingers.
“That’s my earliest memory of him trying to do things. He would reach under the blankets,” she said. “He was bigger, and stronger and older. I was a kid. I didn’t know any better.”
Zimmerman’s defense attorney Mark O’Mara filed a motion Monday to put a stop to a judge’s ruling that ordered the release of hundreds of his client’s jailhouse phone calls and the statement from this witness. But his motion apparently did not reach the Duval County state attorney in time, because the statements were posted shortly after 11 A.M. Monday as scheduled.
O’Mara had been in a furious quest to seal statements from so-called “witness 9,” saying her allegations were incendiary, irrelevant and would ruin his client’s chance at a fair trial.
The portion of her statement that the family disliked blacks was made public weeks ago, but the defense urged the judge to seal the rest of it. Seminole Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester ruled against Zimmerman, O’Mara asked the judge to reconsider. A second hearing on the matter was held last month, and on Friday the judge ruled against him again.
The judge also ordered the release of about 150 of Zimmerman’s jailhouse phone calls, which O’Mara wanted sealed.
Lester said nothing in Florida’s public record law allows for such information to be kept secret. By law, evidence the prosecution turns over to the defense — called “discovery” — is public record. There are exceptions for things such as telecommunications records and confessions.
Lawyers for The Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel and other media argued for the release of the calls and the witness statement. At the June 29 hearing, the media attorneys argued against sealing the statements, and Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda said he may call “witness 9” as a rebuttal witness at trial.
“She certainly would be a rebuttal witness very similar to that in the Sandusky trial showing that he has a history of violence and manipulation,” said Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the parents of the unarmed teenager Zimmerman killed. “Zimmermans mentality is very relevant to this trial.”
By Monday afternoon, O’Mara had not yet commented on the damaging revelations.
Reached earlier this month by the Miami Herald, the woman declined to be interviewed.
In her statement, the woman said Zimmerman has a captivating personality, but was different behind closed doors with her.
“He made everyone love him, made everyone laugh and be happy around him,” she said.
He was like the son her father never had.
But the alleged abuse continued at least once a year during family visits, she said. She claims he would grope her behind curtains and, once when she was about 12, he allegedly made her rub his penis. She did not say he ever penetrated her.
He had a look in his eye whenever it was about to happen, she said.
She said the last incident occurred when she was 16, and the Zimmermans had recently moved to Florida. She said he laid down next to her with an erection and began kissing her and rubbing her chest, but she got up and ran out. He chased her as far as the front door but no further, she said.
“I wanted it to just stop. I didn’t want to ever have to tell anyone,” she told the two investigators.
She said she once tried telling her family, but the vague words she used to explain it apparently went over everybody’s head. In 2005, when she was 20, she told her sister, and her sister told their parents.
The parents had a meeting with Zimmerman at a restaurant. “He sat down at the end of the booth, said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and got up and walked out.”
After that, Zimmerman was never invited to joint family functions.
She never went to the police, because she said her mom told her that cases like hers become “he said - she said,” and get dropped. Zimmerman’s parents “pushed it under the rug and pretended it never happened,” she said.
However, she noted that neither Zimmerman’s parents nor her own ever heard the details of what she says happened. “I told them I didn’t want to talk about it,” she said.
The woman said there were other women who she knows it happened with as well, but that she knows they would deny it. She also told authorities that some of her memories on it were fuzzy, but she distinctly recalls telling some childhood friends. She blocked out even happy memories, she said.
Why then, investigators asked, was she coming forward now?
“It’s the first time in my life I’m not afraid of him,” she said. “I know nothing can get to me. He can’t get to me. I won’t go to Target and see him there anymore.”