By Mike Schneider and Kyle Hightower Associated Press
SANFORD, Fla. — George Zimmerman, who slipped out of jail on $150,000 bail in the early morning darkness, went back into hiding Monday and likely fled to another state to avoid threats as he awaits his second-degree murder trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Later Monday, the Sanford City Commission rejected by a 3-2 vote the resignation of Police Chief Bill Lee, who was roundly criticized for not initially charging Zimmerman and had stepped down temporarily in March he said to let emotions cool.
Even though authorities can pinpoint Zimmerman’s location with a GPS ankle bracelet, that he must wear round the clock, the public may not see him again for some time. Zimmerman has waived his appearance at his upcoming arraignment next month, so he can stay underground if he wants.
Zimmerman already has experience laying low: For more than a month before his arrest, he eluded the media and his whereabouts were not known. His attorney has suggested he had several options for where Zimmerman can stay this time, and a judge indicated he was willing to let Zimmerman leave the state.
Until the next time he must come before a judge, Zimmerman will have to skip such routine pleasures as eating in a restaurant or taking a long stroll outside, said Jose Baez, a former attorney for Casey Anthony. Anthony, acquitted last summer of killing her 2-year-old daughter, went into hiding after her release from jail.
“He may be free, but he’s not free,” Baez said.
First, Zimmerman must limit who knows his whereabouts to avoid the risk someone will give the secret away, Baez said.
“Unfortunately, the people you think you trust, sometimes you find you just really can’t,” Baez said.
The police chief is on paid leave. Not too long ago, the commissioners gave him a “no confidence vote” that city Manager Norton Bonaparte said still stands. The shooting also led to the local prosecutor recusing himself from the case, and the governor appointing Angela Corey, who eventually charged Zimmerman.
The majority of commissioners on Monday blamed the polarization over the Martin case and its handling by the police department on outside groups. Lee had supporters at the meeting who wore, “Bring Back Billy” T-shirts, though there were detractors as well.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” said Velma Williams, the lone black representative on the commission who voted to accept the resignation.
The majority of commissioners said they wanted to wait for an outside investigation to conclude into the handling of the case by police before accepting the resignation agreement drawn up by the city manager and Lee. Commissioners in reading from the agreement said Lee didn’t want to step down, but thought it was for the best.
The city is also looking to find a permanent interim chief, perhaps as early as next week, Bonaparte said.
As for Zimmerman, in order to throw off curious onlookers and the media, he could change his look. Anthony went from a long-haired brunette to a bobbed blonde while serving a year of probation on an unrelated charge at an undisclosed location in Florida.
Next, Zimmerman needs to go someplace where he knows few people and they don’t know him, said Evan Ratliff, who wrote the book (or at least the magazine article) on how to vanish in the 21st century. In 2009, Wired magazine challenged its readers to try to find Ratcliff, who deliberately vanished with the help of disguises, prepaid phones, fake business cards and software that protected his Internet identity, at least for a while. Ratliff eventually was caught because readers were able to trace him through the IP address of a computer he had used.
“He needs to be where he is not around people who are known to be close to him,” Ratliff said. “Not a friend’s house. Not a relative’s house.”
Zimmerman needs to refrain from making any public statements, whether via social media sites like Facebook or Twitter or his own website, www.therealgeorgezimmerman.com, both Baez and Ratliff said. Zimmerman is using his website to help raise money for his legal defense.
Early indications are that will be tough for Zimmerman to resist. After a judge agreed to release him on bond, a statement placed on his website said, “GZ hopes to be able to update the site in the next day or two, God willing. He sends his thanks for your thoughts and support.”
If he just can’t resist getting messages out to his supporters, Zimmerman may be better off using Facebook and Twitter instead of his website because it probably has much weaker security than the social media sites, Ratliff said. Someone could find out where he is by hacking his website or an email account, he said.
“Anytime you are on the Internet, you are potentially traceable,” Ratliff said. “The best way to not be found by anyone is to not use any technology at all.”
Whatever means Zimmerman uses to hide, it could get expensive.
Zimmerman has limited resources. He was working at a mortgage risk management firm but stopped working there after the confrontation with Martin because of the public attention. His wife, Shellie, is in nursing school and doesn’t work.
His attorney, Mark O’Mara, did not return phone calls Monday but has ruled out Zimmerman getting a job while he is out on bail. And O’Mara wrote in court papers that Zimmerman “has no significant financial assets or savings.”
Zimmerman at least has some experience hiding. He went underground after the Feb. 26 confrontation with Martin at the Sanford, Fla., gated community of townhomes where Zimmerman lived.
Martin was unarmed and was walking back to the home of his father’s fiancee when Zimmerman saw him, called police and began following him. A fight broke out — investigators say it is unknown who started it.
Zimmerman says Martin, who was visiting from Miami, attacked him. Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense, citing Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which gives broad legal protection to anyone who says they used deadly force because they feared death or great bodily harm.
Zimmerman was not charged for more than six weeks, sparking nationwide protests. Martin was black; Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is from Peru.
Martin’s parents have a “heavy heart” now that Zimmerman has been released from jail, said Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the 17-year-old’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton.
“They hope his freedom is temporary because the pain he has caused this family is permanent,” Crump said Monday.
Given his success at eluding searchers before his arrest, Baez said he is confident Zimmerman will keep out of public view.
“He seems to be a very careful guy,” Baez said. “Based on his prior ability to lay low, he will be fine. He is going to do exactly what is required of him.”
Schneider reported from Orlando, Fla.