George Zimmerman’s lawyers withdrew from his defense on Tuesday after the man who shot and killed an unarmed black Florida teenager telephoned prosecutors directly, contacted a television journalist and set up a website all without their knowledge.
Defense lawyers Craig Sonner and Mark Uhrig said they lost contact with their client on Sunday and were concerned for his mental and physical health following a wave a protests across the country that have demanded Zimmerman’s arrest for the death of Trayvon Martin, 17.
“We have lost contact with him,” Sonner told a news conference outside the Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford, Florida, the town where Martin was shot.
The decision by the lawyers to step down marks the latest twist in a case that has captured national attention because of race and Florida’s controversial self-defense laws.
Martin was black and Zimmerman is white and Hispanic.
Zimmerman, 28, has not been charged in the case and has been in hiding since the shooting incident exploded into the public consciousness. Sonner and Uhrig declined on Tuesday to say where Zimmerman was except to say he was in the United States.
Uhrig said he remains concerned about his former client’s mental and physical health, calling the investigation and the media attention “a terribly corrosive process.”
“He probably watches more of this every day than he should,” Uhrig said. “He’s emotionally alone, and you might even say emotionally crippled.”
The lawyers said they would return to representing Zimmerman if he were to reach out and request their services.
For the time being, however, both attorneys said they were concerned he was taking action in the case without their advice.
They said they were particularly concerned that Zimmerman had telephoned the special prosecutor’s office and offered to answer questions. The prosecutor’s office told the attorneys about Zimmerman’s call and said they declined to meet or speak with him without his legal representation.
On Monday, Zimmerman launched a website to raise money for his legal defense and living expenses while he awaits the decision over possible charges against him.
The website, called therealgeorgezimmerman.com, offers one of the first publicly available comments from Zimmerman since he went into hiding after the shooting on February 26.
“I was involved in a life altering event which led me to become the subject of intense media coverage,” Zimmerman says on the home page.
Sanford police declined to arrest Zimmerman after the shooting, saying they found no evidence to contradict his account that he acted in self-defense. Police cited Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force against adversaries when they fear great bodily harm or death.