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'Witness 9' Accuses Zimmerman Of Molestation


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, if you're worried your kids are passing you by when it comes to technology, you might want to watch out for grandma, too. We'll speak with a group of tweeting, Skyping and Facebooking grandmas who keep up with their families and friends using the latest technology. That's coming up.

But, first, there has been a disturbing new development in the case involving George Zimmerman. He is that neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed the unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, in February.

Florida state's attorney's office released another round of information this week and there are some disturbing details that have become public, and I need to say here that this may not be something appropriate for all listeners.

So, with that being said, the information newly released by the Florida officials includes a statement from a woman referred to as Witness 9. She is the same witness who, in earlier reports, said that Zimmerman and his family held racist views toward black people. Zimmerman's family and some friends of his have vehemently denied that claim, but the newly released information makes another shocking allegation.

This is part of a conversation Witness 9 had with investigators last March.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He would reach under the blankets and try to do things and I would try to push him off, but he was bigger and stronger and older.

MARTIN: Witness 9 has been identified by Zimmerman's lawyers as his cousin and she alleges that, beginning when she was 6 years old and George Zimmerman was about 8, that he sexually assaulted her on a regular basis about once a year for nearly a decade until she was 16.

Joining us to talk more about these allegations and their relevance to the case is NPR's Greg Allen. He's been covering the story and he joins us from his office in Miami.

Greg, welcome back. Thanks so much for joining us.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Sure. Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: Briefly, can you tell us, what else do we know about Witness 9, how she alleges these incidents took place and why she says she wanted to come forward with this now?

ALLEN: Well, you know, there's a lot there. I mean, this is clearly one of the things she wanted to talk to prosecutors most about. You know, she first surfaced with the call alleging that George Zimmerman and members of his family are racist, but then when she sat down with these investigators from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, she spoke for at least a half hour about this long litany of incidents that happened over the 10 year period. So this is clearly something that's been bothering her for - really, for a good part of her life. I think she's 26 now. So you're talking about 16 years.

And she goes through the entire decade, really, up to the present in that conversation and you listen to this tape. You played a little bit of it there, but it's very moving. I mean, so in that way, it's hard to undercut what she says. It seems real, but it's - as you say, it started when she was 6. She's his cousin - George Zimmerman's cousin. She would come and stay with them about a year. They were moving at one point. Her family was moving from Louisiana - I think it was to Florida.

She came and stayed with George Zimmerman and his family in Virginia and that's when the first incident happened, when she was 6. And then she recounts a series of incidents that happened about every couple of years and all the way up to when she was 16, the last one that we hear, when he was nearly 18. That's the last one she talks about, although they had another incident later, but there was actually no contact there. She ran away before she could actually deal with him and so she fairly clearly was intimidated by him, at least from her account to the investigators and was very upset by this.

And this whole incident with the Trayvon Martin shooting - when that happened, she felt that she should come forward.

MARTIN: Now, George Zimmerman's defense attorneys filed a motion to stop the release of these tapes and you can certainly see why. They say that these are prejudicial and they also say that none of this would be admissible in court.

So I wanted to ask you, what are the Florida officials saying about why they released this information and what is the relevance to the criminal case against him?

ALLEN: It's very interesting. I mean, I think one could argue, as Mark O'Mara, George Zimmerman's lawyer, does argue that this is not admissible in court. He says flatly, I think, to the Miami Herald yesterday, that this will not be admitted in court.

The prosecutors, the state attorney's office - they work for State Attorney Angela Corey. They say, oh, we think this will be admissible in court. They think it will be admitted on rebuttal if George Zimmerman takes the stand or his character becomes an issue in the case - which they believe it will - then they will introduce this witness to rebut anyone who says that he's, you know, an upstanding character. They'll say, here's a family member who knew him over a long period of time who found that he was anything but upstanding.

So this is going to be a tough one for the judge and he's already embroiled right in the middle of this by allowing this testimony to be made public.

MARTIN: Now, you know, to that end, Mr. Zimmerman's lawyers also filed a motion for the judge to recuse himself from the case. Because of this or were there other reasons?

ALLEN: No. It's interesting. I mean, you know, the judge and Mark O'Mara - I think people think very highly of him. He's Zimmerman's lawyer. The judge speaks often about how highly he thinks about him and other attorneys speak very highly of the judge, Judge Kenneth Lester, who's the judge for that circuit here in Florida.

But the two have come at loggerheads over this issue and it goes back to the issue of bail and what appears to be a fact that George Zimmerman's wife, Shellie, and also George Zimmerman mislead the court about how much money they had when they claimed they were indigent and couldn't afford any bail. At that time, the court set a low bail amount.

Later, the prosecutors produced, you know, recordings from jailhouse conversations where Shellie and George Zimmerman were talking about how much money they had in their online account that was set up for his defense fund, and it was a couple of hundred thousand dollars at that point, and how - what they were going to do with it.

And, when the court heard about that, I mean, the judge clearly felt like - he said that justice had been flouted, that the Zimmermans had been manipulating the system. And so, he clearly took that as an affront to justice and it leads to the question about if - the judge suggested that George Zimmerman could even be tried for contempt of court, charged with contempt of court.

And those are all issues that Mark O'Mara said, that he said that Judge Lester went a little too far in what he said about Zimmerman. He said, from his motion; he said that he, that the judge made disparaging remarks about Zimmerman's character and that he advocated that Zimmerman be prosecuted for additional crimes. Other things like that. And that's why he asked for the judge to actually recuse himself, to actually take himself - disqualify himself from the case.

MARTIN: Which he, so far, refused to do, I take it.

ALLEN: Well, we haven't heard definitively from the judge yet. He has not responded to that motion.

MARTIN: OK. But, before we let you go, we have to get to this one question. We mentioned earlier that Witness 9 also said that George Zimmerman and his family expressed racist views toward black people. The specific information she imparted was that he and his family expressed racist views toward black people who don't act white. You know, I'm not quite sure what that means.

But apparently, there was an FBI investigation around this particular question. They interviewed friends, neighbors and co-workers. At least one investigator concludes that he was not motivated to shoot, at least, because of racial bias. Can you tell us a little bit more about this in the time we have left? About a minute.

ALLEN: Right. And this is the long, twisted tale, I think, already. I mean, this issue of racism is the one that this Witness 9 brought up originally when she came to talk to investigators. She restated those to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators. She restated those charges, but then really launched right into this long litany of incidence of sexual abuse, you know. That's clearly what she wanted to talk about and, in fact, I think the whole question about whether George Zimmerman is racist gets a little bit undercut when she just says a few passing things and actually attributes more to George Zimmerman's mother - this idea of being racism - than she does to him, and then goes into this.

So I think, in some ways, the whole issue of whether he's racist or not gets put by the side while we now have these new bombastic allegations about sexual abuse.

MARTIN: OK. Well, to be continued. Greg Allen, thanks for keeping us up-to-date on this important story. NPR's Greg Allen is covering the George Zimmerman case involving the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, and Greg Allen joined us from his office in Miami.

Greg, thanks.

ALLEN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.