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George Zimmerman

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For other people named George Zimmerman, see George Zimmerman (disambiguation).
George Zimmerman
Black and white portrait of George Zimmerman smiling with an open white collared shirt and gold cross chain
Portrait of George Zimmerman taken in Orlando Florida on October 31, 2015
Born George Michael Zimmerman
(1983-10-05) October 5, 1983 (age 32)
Manassas, Virginia
Nationality American
Ethnicity German, Peruvian[1]
Alma mater All Saints Catholic School
Osbourn High School
Seminole State College
Occupation Insurance underwriter
Known for Fatally shooting Trayvon Martin
Religion Catholic
Spouse(s) Shellie Nicole Dean (2007-2013)
Parent(s) Robert Zimmerman, Sr.
Gladys (née Mesa) Zimmerman
Relatives Siblings Robert Jr., Grace, and Dawn

George Michael Zimmerman (born October 5, 1983) is an American known for the shooting of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida. On July 13, 2013, he was acquitted of second-degree murder in Florida v. George Zimmerman. As of 2015, he remains the subject of media interest due to ongoing controversy over the Trayvon Martin case, as well as a number of other incidents and allegations of violence involving Zimmerman subsequent to his acquittal.


Zimmerman was born on October 5, 1983, in Manassas, Virginia, and is the son of Gladys (née Mesa) Zimmerman and Robert Zimmerman Sr.[2] Zimmerman is the third of four children and his siblings include a brother, Robert Jr., and two sisters, Grace and Dawn.[3][4] Gladys Zimmerman was born in Peru and has some black ancestry, through her Afro-Peruvian maternal grandfather.[3] Robert Zimmerman Sr. is an American of German descent and served 22 years in the military working for the Department of Defense for the last 10 years of his military career. Before retiring to Florida in 2002, Zimmerman Sr. had served as a magistrate in Fairfax County's 19th Judicial District.[3][5][6][7] George Zimmerman had identified himself as Hispanic on voter registration forms.[1]

Zimmerman was raised as a Catholic and served as an altar boy from age 7 to 17. Zimmerman attended All Saints Catholic School in Manassas before going to public high school.[6] At age 14, Zimmerman joined an after-school Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program because he had wanted to become a Marine.[3] When Zimmerman was 15 years old, he held three part-time jobs on nights and weekends to save up for a car. Zimmerman graduated from Osbourn High School in 2001.[3][6]

Move to Florida

After graduating from high school, Zimmerman moved to Lake Mary, Florida, a suburb of Orlando, where he got a job at an insurance agency. Zimmerman took classes at night to obtain a license to sell insurance. It was during this time when he became friends with Lee Ann Benjamin, a real estate agent, and her husband John Donnelly, a Sanford attorney.[3] Benjamin and Donnelly would both testify on his behalf at his trial in the death of Martin.[8][9] According to Donnelly, in 2004 Zimmerman and an African American friend opened a satellite office of Allstate Insurance, which failed a year later.

Move to Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford

Zimmerman married Shellie Dean, a licensed cosmetologist in 2007 and, two years later, they rented a townhouse in the Retreat at Twin Lakes. Zimmerman had also previously been employed at a car dealership and a mortgage audit firm.[3][4] Zimmerman enrolled in Seminole State College in 2009 and was working on an associate degree in criminal justice. In December 2011 he was allowed to participate in a school graduation ceremony, even though he was a course credit shy of his degree. He was completing that credit at the time of the shooting. Zimmerman was employed as an insurance underwriter at that time also.[3][4][10]

In early 2011, Zimmerman participated in a citizen forum at the Sanford City Hall to protest the beating of a black homeless man by the son of a white Sanford police officer. During the meeting, Zimmerman claimed he witnessed "disgusting behavior" while participating in a ride-along program with local police; however the police department said it did not know when, if ever, Zimmerman was in that program.[11][12]

Trayvon Martin shooting and trial

George Zimmerman, 2012

On February 26, 2012, Zimmerman fatally shot 17-year-old African American high school student Trayvon Martin in The Retreat at Twin Lakes community in Sanford, Florida.[3] Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch coordinator for the gated community where Martin was temporarily staying and where the shooting took place.[13][14][15] The Twin Lakes Neighborhood Watch program was not registered with the National Neighborhood Watch Program, but was administered by the local police department.[16] Following an earlier call from Zimmerman, police arrived within two minutes of a gunshot during an altercation in which Zimmerman fatally shot Martin, who did not possess any weapons. Zimmerman was subsequently taken into custody, treated for head injuries, then questioned for five hours. The police chief said that Zimmerman was released because there was no evidence to refute Zimmerman's claim of having acted in self-defense, and that under Florida's Stand Your Ground statute, the police were prohibited by law from making an arrest.[17] The police chief also said that Zimmerman had had a right to defend himself with lethal force.[18] As news of the case spread, thousands of protestors across the country called for Zimmerman's arrest and a full investigation.[19] Six weeks after the shooting, amid widespread, intense, and in some cases misleading media coverage,[20][21] Zimmerman was charged with murder by a special prosecutor appointed by Governor Rick Scott.[22]

Zimmerman's trial began on June 10, 2013, in Sanford. On July 13, a jury acquitted Zimmerman of the charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter.[23] For three years, the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigated Zimmerman on civil rights charges.[24] In February 2015, the DOJ concluded there was not sufficient evidence that Zimmerman intentionally violated the civil rights of Martin,[24] saying the Zimmerman case did not meet the "high standard" for a federal hate crime prosecution.[24] In response to his acquittal Zimmerman said he felt free to speak his opinion "without fear of retaliation".[25] Zimmerman criticized the government and President Obama. He believed Obama inflamed racial tensions. "He by far overstretched, overreached, even broke the law in certain aspects to where you have an innocent American being prosecuted by the federal government," Zimmerman said.[25]

According to Zimmerman's brother Robert Jr., in the year following the trial, Zimmerman was both homeless and jobless. Robert Jr. additionally commented that while he believed his brother's "state of mind" was better, Zimmerman was "a very traumatized person because he has had his liberty taken away from him."[26]

Zimmerman gained 100 to 125 pounds in about a 16-month period, between the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the trial.[27] He weighed over 300 pounds at the trial.[28] It became a source of commentary and speculation in the press on how it might impact the jury's perceptions.[28][29][30][31][32]

On September 28, 2015, Zimmerman retweeted an evidence photograph of Trayvon Martin's body taken at the scene of the shooting and used in the trial. It stayed up for a few days before Twitter took it down. He also tweeted the work phone number of a person unrelated to the shooting, who was subsequently inundated with callers.[33] Zimmerman responded to the controversy on October 5, typing that he had blocked the tweet and was attempting to simply tweet words of encouragement from a supporter. "I do not want to see or relive the night that I was attacked and had to use lethal force to defend my life," Zimmerman wrote. "No part of the events that transpired that night were heroic or admirable."[34]

Other encounters with law enforcement

Apart from the 2012 Martin shooting, Zimmerman has had other encounters with the law, including two incidents in 2005, five incidents in 2013 and other incidents in following years.[35]

In July 2005, when he was 21, Zimmerman was arrested after shoving an undercover alcohol-control agent while a friend of Zimmerman's was being arrested for underage drinking. The officer alleged that Zimmerman had said, "I don't care who you are," followed by a profanity, and had refused to leave the area after the officer had shown their badge.[36] The charges were subsequently dropped when Zimmerman entered a pre-trial diversion program that included anger-management classes.[3][37]

Also in 2005, Zimmerman's ex-fiancée filed a restraining order against him, alleging domestic violence. Zimmerman requested a reciprocal restraining order. Both orders were granted.[3][38] These incidents were raised by prosecutors at Zimmerman's initial bond hearing. The judge described them as "run of the mill."[39][40]

Zimmerman's wife, Shellie pleaded guilty on August 28, 2013, to a reduced misdemeanor perjury charge for lying under oath. She was sentenced to a year's probation and 100 hours of community service. She lied about their assets during a bail hearing following his arrest for shooting Martin. Days before the bond hearing she moved $74,000, broken into smaller transfers, from his credit union account to hers. $47,000 was transferred from George's account to his sister's in the days before the bond hearing. Amounts of over $10,000 would have been reported to the Internal Revenue Service. Four days after he was released on bond, she transferred more than $85,500 from her account into her husband's account. The jail recorded Zimmerman instructing her on a call to "pay off all the bills," including credit cards.[41] On September 9, 2013, in Lake Mary, police responded to a 911 call by Zimmerman's estranged wife, who reported that Zimmerman had threatened her and her father with a gun and had punched her father in the face. Zimmerman was briefly detained and questioned by police.[42] No gun was found at the scene. Police took a broken iPad from the scene for examination of a video recording of the incident to determine whether to press charges against either Zimmerman or his wife.[43] His wife declined to press charges, later expressing regret about her decision.[44] After determining that the iPad video could not be recovered, the Lake Mary police department announced they would not be pressing charges against Zimmerman, his wife, or her father.[45]

On November 18, 2013, Zimmerman's girlfriend called the police alleging that after she had asked Zimmerman to leave her home, he had pointed a shotgun at her and begun breaking her belongings.[46] The police reported that Zimmerman had barricaded himself inside the apartment before they had made their way inside and arrested him.[47] He was charged with aggravated assault with a weapon – a felony – as well as domestic violence battery and criminal mischief.[48][49] On December 6, Zimmerman's girlfriend asked that the charges against Zimmerman be dropped and that the restraining order barring him from seeing her be lifted, after which prosecutors said that they would no longer be pursuing a case against him.[50][51]

On January 9, 2015, Zimmerman was arrested by Lake Mary police and charged with aggravated assault with a weapon after allegedly throwing a wine bottle at his ex-girlfriend.[52] He was released on bond the following day.[53] The charges were later dropped after the complainant recanted her story.[54]

Encounters with Matthew Apperson

On September 9, 2014, Zimmerman was named by police in a road rage incident in which another driver, later named by police as Matthew Apperson, claimed that Zimmerman followed and threatened him.[55][56] Zimmerman later claimed in a testimony that Apperson approached him over a rear tire leaking air, which Zimmerman was already aware of and explained this to Apperson before he asked Zimmerman if he knew he was "wrong for killing that little black boy". Zimmerman lost Apperson after the two stopped at a gas station and Zimmerman drove off.[57]

On May 11, 2015, Apperson admittedly shot at Zimmerman on a street in Lake Mary, causing minor facial injuries from flying glass and debris.[58][59][60] Apperson maintained that Zimmerman was the aggressor and that Apperson acted in self-defense.[61][62] Zimmerman also had a gun with him at the time of the incident, but Zimmerman's attorney said that "George absolutely denies having shown it, waved, displayed, pointed it." A Lake Mary police spokesperson stated that "the investigation has proven that George Zimmerman was not the shooter."[61] On May 15, 2015, Apperson was jailed in Sanford, Florida with a bond of $35,000 on charges related to the shooting.[63] Apperson was ordered to wear a GPS monitor that alerts Zimmerman when he is nearby.[64] Lake Mary PD "learned that Apperson has exhibited unusual behaviors in which he had recently been admitted to a mental institution. It appears that Apperson has a fixation on Zimmerman and has displayed some signs of paranoia, anxiety, and bipolar disorder."[65] On June 18, 2015, State Attorney Phil Archer charged Matthew Apperson with second-degree attempted murder.[66]

On September 22, 2015, a judge ruled Apperson would stand trial for second-degree attempted murder along with one count of aggravated assault and one count of shooting into an occupied vehicle. Zimmerman testified, denying he had pointed a gun but admitting to having two firearms in his truck that day.[57] Zimmerman further claimed Apperson yelled that Zimmerman owed him his life and shot at him after Zimmerman mocked him by calling him a "clown". After flagging down a police officer following the shooting, Zimmerman was taken to a hospital where examination showed that he had not been shot but had been cut by flying glass.[67]

Media perceptions

Zimmerman was satirized in the South Park episode "World War Zimmerman" which premiered on Comedy Central in the United States on October 9, 2013.[68] It parodies World War Z and the George Zimmerman murder trials. One critic called it "great social commentary".[69] Conversely, Jack Cashill, author of If I Had A Son: Race, Guns, and the Railroading of George Zimmerman, criticized "World War Zimmerman". He wrote that South Park "had it absolutely wrong" and felt that it was "really a shame because they are one of the few sources of common sense in the mainstream media".[70]


The blue painting of an American flag, which has 50 stars and 13 stripes. Light blue is a color variation for original white stars and stripes. Dark blue is a color variation for original blue box of the stars and original red stripes. The front text of the painting says "GOD / ONE NATION / with / LIBERTY and JUSTICE FOR ALL"
Painting of an American flag by Zimmerman

In December 2013, Zimmerman began selling paintings he had made. His first painting, of an American flag, sold for $100,099.99 on eBay in late December.[71] His work has been poorly received by art critics. Andrew Russeth of New York Observer argued, "It looks like someone is doing paint by number."[71] Jason Edward, a contributing editor at Art+Auction, said, "It's very primitive, the sort of thing an art critic wouldn't look at twice."[71] Christian Viveros-Faune, an art critic for the Village Voice, even wrote that Zimmerman's work is comparable to murderabilia by people such as serial killer John Wayne Gacy and cult leader Charles Manson.[71] Zimmerman defended his work, posting: "I found a creative way to express myself, my emotions and the symbols that represent my experiences. My art work allows me to reflect, providing a therapeutic outlet and allows me to remain indoors :-)".[71] It was later reported that the American flag painting was copied from a stock image taken from Shutterstock without attribution.[72]

In January 2014, the Associated Press demanded that Zimmerman halt the sale of one of his paintings because the news agency said it directly copied an AP photo. The photo and painting show Jacksonville-based prosecutor Angela Corey (whose office prosecuted Zimmerman for the shooting death of Martin) holding her thumb and fingers together. Zimmerman apparently made up the quote that he added to the painting: "I have this much respect for the American judicial system." The controversy was similar to that arising from the use of an AP photo by Shepard Fairey in his composition of the Barack Obama "Hope" poster.[73]

In August 2015, Zimmerman began selling a limited number of prints of a painting of the Confederate battle flag in conjunction with gun seller Andy Hallinan of Florida Gun Supply, in Inverness, Florida. Hallinan is known for announcing that Muslims were not welcome at his store which was "Muslim free". Michael Walsh of Yahoo! News observed, "Zimmerman's latest painting brings together three highly controversial topics with which the nation is dealing: the deaths of young black men, the Confederate battle flag and discrimination against American Muslims."[74]

Twitter scandals

In late August 2015, controversy centering on Zimmerman arose once again when his Twitter profile picture of a Confederate flag "backed by an American flag" (in his words) became better-known. Frequently criticized posts of his from August included one in which Zimmerman called Obama an "ignorant baboon";[75] one in which he posted an image of Vesper Lee Flanagan, an African-American former news reporter who shot and killed two ex-coworkers during a broadcast, and wrote, "If Obama had a son...";[76] and another in which Zimmerman typed, in response to people who wanted him killed, that the United States understands "how it ended for the last moron that hit me" (in reference to Trayvon Martin).[77]

In September 2015, Zimmerman retweeted a photo of Trayvon Martin’s slain body posted by another Twitter user with the caption “Z-Man is a one man army”. Several days later, Zimmerman posted a letter where he said that the photo in the original tweet was marked as “sensitive” and was blocked, so he retweeted it because of the text message without seeing the photo.[78][79]

In December 2015, Zimmerman tweeted two photos of a topless woman he claimed was his ex-girlfriend, accused her of cheating and theft of his firearm and money. He also put her phone number and e-mail address on his tweet. Less than two hours later, Zimmerman’s Twitter account was suspended by the administration of the resource according to their policy against posting another person’s private and confidential information including e-mail addresses, phone numbers and familiar photos.[80][81]


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