While the George Zimmerman vs. the state of Florida trial has come and gone, with the social implications of the case being beaten into the ground, one interesting aspect of the year-and-a-half long saga to consider is the role that money played in the narrative. It is a widely known fact that, in the court of law, economics can play a big role in how cases are carried out and the luxuries that people enjoy during them.
The richest, wealthiest and/or most fortunate of defendants have the abilities to pay bail and hire lawyers that have a knack for persuasion in court. Having said that, we thought it’d be worth it to quickly revisit how George Zimmerman’s legal endeavors were funded.
While it might be interesting to evaluate the role Zimmerman’s personal finances played in this trial, it seems like the most important factor was the financial support from others. According to Forbes contributor Kelly Phillips Erb, during July 2012, around $200,000 dollars was raised for Zimmerman’s defense through a charitable website of sorts set up in his name – TheRealGeorgeZimmerman.com.
George’s wife, Shellie, claimed at the time that the Zimmermans did not have the means to adequately fund a defense team for the murder trial. Though the prosecution eventually argued against that claim and successfully moved to revoke the defendant’s bail in the process, the money that was raised was still put to good use. $150,000 of the money that was donated was placed in a trust fund for the attorneys, $30,000 was used so that Zimmerman could move away from his home and the scene of the crime in Sanford, Florida, and $20,000 was set aside for living expenses.
So that amount of money, the 200k, covers what Zimmerman initially had last summer. But how, you might ask, did he continue amassing funds going further? $200,000 can’t possibly be enough to pay a defense team while fighting a second-degree murder charge, right? Right. And that is the reason that a separate site, GZdefensefund.com, was set up in June of 2012.
While Forbes tells us that $15,000 was raised for Zimmerman in the first two weeks after donations could be made to the site, a note from the defense team on the official website of the case (GZlegalcase.com, which was set up by his lawyers) offers a more intricate estimate of just how much money was necessary to be raised for the defendant. The message was posted at a time Zimmerman had expended all donation money.
“Had we declared indigency [the inability to fund a defense, which would prompt the government to then support the defendant’s right to a trial], George’s defense would end up costing Florida taxpayers more than $1,000,000,” his legal team wrote on the site in May. “As it stands now, with a little extra support, we’re going to get through trial for less than half that figure, and we’ll have done it, not with tax-payer funds, but with money generously donated by people from across the country who believe George is innocent and that he is being wrongly prosecuted.”
All in all, revisiting the facts pertaining to Zimmerman’s method for funding his legal case shines a light on three intriguing economic aspects of the trial.
First is the primary reason behind publishing this article: the amount that it cost for George Zimmerman to defend himself in a murder trial. Zimmerman's defense team claimed they would get through the trial using less than $500,000, and the Los Angeles Times has given an appraisal that remains consistent with that figure. Reporter Rob Abcarian stated last week that the case, as well as Zimmerman's living expenses throughout the trial (the defense has said that in addition to relocation, Zimmerman had to allocate money to security for him and his wife), cost an estimated $30,000 per month.
According to these numbers in conjunction with the time between Zimmerman being charged in May 2012 and the trial concluding in July 2013, covering a span of 14 months, we can assume that it cost Zimmerman just over $400,000 to get through the whole trial using donations.
The second interesting fact to consider is that, for as many people as there were who were up in arms over Zimmerman's actions, there may have been just as many people who supported him (not necessarily because they were in favor of the killing of a teenage boy, but because they thought the defendant might be on the wrong end of a legal issue steeped in a social issue). People donated small amounts of money to GZdefensefund with messages such as the following:
“I hope this little money helps. I don’t know if you are right or wrong, but you do deserve a fair trial. I can only hope if I were thrown to the wolves someone would come help me out.” “I am concerned that a jury may be afraid to find you innocent.” “I hope this little money helps. I don’t know if you are right or wrong, but you do deserve a fair trial. I can only hope if I were thrown to the wolves someone would come help me out.”
Lastly, the role of social media should be considered: Will this be the way of the future for high-profile cases? Zimmerman's defense team is quoted in the L.A. Times as saying, "using social media in a high-profile lawsuit is new, and relatively unprecedented, but that is only because social media itself is relatively new …. Social media in this day and age cannot be ignored, and it would be, in fact, irresponsible to ignore the robust online conversation."
Lead attorney Mark O'Mara amassed huge success in drawing donations through blogging, Twitter and the use of PayPal. Given the precedent he set, there may be a day it becomes common practice for defendants to appeal to others for financial support, in hopes of raising the hundreds of thousands of dollars that George Zimmerman was able to acquire, funding his 14-month long court case.
Photo credit: WENN