George Michael Zimmerman (born October 5, 1983) is an American who fatally shot Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2012. On July 13, 2013, he was acquitted of all charges in Florida v. George Zimmerman. Since his acquital, he has been involved in other violent incidents, with allegations of violence made against him. Zimmerman himself was later the target of a shooting, which resulted in a conviction for attempted murder against the perpetrator.
George Michael Zimmerman
October 5, 1983
Manassas, Virginia, U.S.
|Alma mater||All Saints Catholic School|
Osbourn High School
Seminole State College
|Known for||Fatally shooting Trayvon Martin|
|Spouse(s)||Shellie Nicole Dean (2007–2013)|
|Parent(s)||Robert Zimmerman Sr.|
Gladys Cristina (née Mesa) Zimmerman
- 1 Background
- 2 Trayvon Martin shooting and trial
- 3 Other encounters with law enforcement
- 4 Shooting by Matthew Apperson
- 5 Other charges and violations
- 6 Media perceptions
- 7 Paintings
- 8 Twitter scandals
- 9 Gun sale
- 10 Political affiliation
- 11 References
George Michael Zimmerman was born on October 5, 1983, in Manassas, Virginia, to Gladys Cristina (née Mesa) Zimmerman and Robert Zimmerman Sr. He is the third of four children, and his siblings include a brother, Robert Jr., and two sisters, Grace and Dawn. His mother was born in Peru and has some African ancestry through her Afro-Peruvian maternal grandfather. His father is an American of German descent and a career military officer. He 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.
Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic on voter registration forms. He was raised as a Catholic and served as an altar boy from age 7 to 17, the family was known for being devoutly religious. Zimmerman attended All Saints Catholic School in Manassas before going to public high school. At age 14, Zimmerman joined an after-school Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program because he had wanted to become a Marine. 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.
Move to Florida
After graduating from high school, Zimmerman moved to Lake Mary, Florida, a suburb of Orlando, where he was employed by 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. Benjamin and Donnelly would both testify on his behalf at his trial in the death of Martin. 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
Zimmerman married Shellie Dean, a licensed cosmetologist, in 2007. Two years later, they rented a townhouse in the Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman had previously been employed at a car dealership and a mortgage audit firm. 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 then employed as an insurance underwriter.
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 later that it did not know when, if ever, Zimmerman was in that program.
Trayvon Martin shooting and trial
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. Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch coordinator in his gated community; Martin was temporarily staying there and was shot there. The Twin Lakes Neighborhood Watch program was not registered with the National Neighborhood Watch Program, but was administered by the local police department. 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. The police chief said that Zimmerman had a right to defend himself with lethal force. As news of the case spread, thousands of protesters across the United States called for Zimmerman's arrest and a full investigation. Six weeks after the shooting, amid widespread, intense, and in some cases misleading media coverage, Zimmerman was charged with murder by a special prosecutor appointed by Governor Rick Scott.
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. For three years, the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigated Zimmerman on civil rights charges. In February 2015, the DOJ concluded there was not sufficient evidence that Zimmerman intentionally violated the civil rights of Martin, saying the Zimmerman case did not meet the "high standard" for a federal hate crime prosecution.
After DOJ said it would not charge him with a hate crime, Zimmerman said he felt free to speak his opinion "without fear of retaliation". 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.
According to Zimmerman's brother Robert Jr. in 2014, in the year following the trial, Zimmerman was both homeless and jobless. Robert Jr. said 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".
Between the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the trial, Zimmerman gained 100 to 125 pounds (45–57 kg) in about a 16-month period. He weighed over 300 pounds (136 kg) at the trial. His weight was discussed by FOX News and similar media with speculation as to how it might affect the jury's perceptions.
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. 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."
On December 4, 2019, it was reported that Zimmerman filed a lawsuit against Martin's "parents, prosecutors and state authorities" claiming the parties knew "about or should have known about the witness fraud, obstructed justice, or lied repeatedly under oath in order to cover up their knowledge of the witness fraud".
Other encounters with law enforcement
Zimmerman has had other encounters with the law, including two incidents in 2005, five incidents in 2013, and other incidents in the following years.
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 his badge. The charges were subsequently dropped when Zimmerman entered a pre-trial diversion program that included anger management classes.
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. These incidents were raised by prosecutors at Zimmerman's initial bond hearing. The judge described them as "run of the mill."
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 Zimmerman 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.
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. 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. His wife declined to press charges, later expressing regret about her decision. After determining that the iPad video could not be recovered, the Lake Mary police department announced they would not be pressing charges against any of the parties.
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. The police reported that Zimmerman had barricaded himself inside the apartment before they made their way inside and arrested him. He was charged with aggravated assault with a weapon – a felony – as well as domestic violence battery and criminal mischief. 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 drop the case against him.
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. He was released on bond the following day. The charges were later dropped after the complainant recanted her story.
On July 31, 2016, Zimmerman called the Seminole County Sheriff's Department to report that he had been punched in the face at Gators Riverside Grille in Sanford. Zimmerman told investigators that he had been identified, and then assaulted by another patron at the restaurant who accused him of bragging about killing Trayvon Martin.
On November 9, 2016, Zimmerman was removed from a bar after yelling at a waitress. A deputy on the scene said Zimmerman used a racial slur before he left. Zimmerman stated he intended to sue the Seminole County Sheriff's Office. The deputy claimed that Zimmerman said: "I didn't know you were a nigger lover."
Shooting by 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. Zimmerman later claimed in testimony that Apperson approached him over a rear tire leaking air, which Zimmerman was already aware of. He had explained this to Apperson before Apperson asked if Zimmerman 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.
On May 11, 2015, Apperson shot at Zimmerman while the two were driving in separate cars on a street in Lake Mary. Zimmerman was grazed by glass and metal shards when the bullet broke through his passenger-side window and was stopped by the metal window frame, causing minor facial injuries from flying glass and debris. Zimmerman flagged down a police officer and was taken to the hospital. Apperson maintained that Zimmerman was the aggressor and that Apperson acted in self-defense. 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."
On May 15, 2015, Apperson was jailed in Sanford, Florida with a bond of $35,000. While free on bond, Apperson was accused, convicted and jailed for disorderly conduct, which revoked his bond. 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."
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. Apperson was convicted of attempted murder and aggravated assault with a firearm on September 16, 2016. On October 17, 2016, Apperson was sentenced to 20 years in prison on the charge of attempted 2nd-degree murder. He was also given a 15-year concurrent sentence for aggravated assault stemming from the same incident.
Other charges and violations
In May 2018, Zimmerman was charged with stalking against a private investigator who had been working with Michael Gasparro and Jay-Z on the documentary series Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story. According to the investigator, in December 2017, Zimmerman contacted him with 21 phone calls, 38 text messages and 7 voice mails in two and a half hours.
Zimmerman was satirized in the South Park episode "World War Zimmerman", which premiered on Comedy Central in the United States on October 9, 2013. It parodies World War Z and the George Zimmerman murder trials.
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. On the auction page for the painting, Zimmerman wrote:
Everyone has been asking what I have been doing with myself. 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 :-) I hope you enjoy owning this piece as much as I enjoyed creating it. Your friend, George Zimmerman.
In January 2014, the Associated Press and a Jacksonville, Florida photographer Rick Wilson demanded that Zimmerman halt the sale of one of his paintings because the news agency asserted it directly copied a photo owned by the AP. The photo and painting identically 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. Led by attorney John Michael Phillips, the cease and desist indeed halted the sale of this and other paintings.
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."
Andrew Russeth of the New York Observer appraised Zimmerman's work as likened to paint by number. Jason Edward, a contributing editor at Art+Auction, referred to the paintings as "very primitive, the sort of thing an art critic wouldn't look at twice." Christian Viveros-Fauné, an art critic for the Village Voice, has referred to Zimmerman's artistic endeavors as constituting "murderabilia".
In late August 2015, controversy centering on Zimmerman arose 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"; one in which he posted an image of Vester Lee Flanagan, an African-American former news reporter who shot and killed two ex-coworkers during a live broadcast, and wrote, "If Obama had a son..."; 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).
In September 2015, Zimmerman retweeted a photo of Martin's slain body posted by another Twitter user, who had the caption: "Z-Man is a one man army". Several days later, Zimmerman posted a letter saying 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.
In December 2015, Zimmerman tweeted two photos of a topless woman he claimed was his ex-girlfriend, and accused her of cheating and of the theft of his firearm and money. He included 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. Zimmerman's tweet included a statement against Muslims.
On May 11, 2016, Zimmerman posted what was planned to be the auction of the firearm he used to shoot Martin. The post, in which Zimmerman wrote that the gun was "an American Firearm icon", attracted controversy. Zimmerman subsequently explained that the Justice Department had recently returned the weapon to him. He said that he had the right as owner to sell it. Zimmerman said the proceeds of the weapon would go to combating the violence against police officers by members of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as "ensure the demise of Angela Corey's persecution career and Hillary Clinton's anti-firearm rhetoric". After selling the weapon, Zimmerman said that he had chosen to sell it directly as a result of Clinton "stumping around for a false campaign for the Trayvon Martin Foundation" and accused her of lying about the events of the shooting.
Though the auction was set to take place May 12, the weapon listing was removed before the auction was scheduled to begin. The original auction site, gunbroker.com, released a statement stating that they wanted no part in the listing or any of the publicity related to it. Zimmerman reposted the firearm on another site, United Gun Group. Within minutes, the site went down due to the intense traffic prompted by the listing. As bidding proceeded, purported bidders began using fake names such as "Donald Trump" and "Tamir Rice" to place large bids on the weapon, which were interpreted as a joke. Martin Shkreli expressed genuine interest so that he could either destroy the firearm or place it in a museum. Moderators on the bidding sites caught additional scam actions. On May 18, the auction ended, with the gun selling for over $100,000. Zimmerman did not release the name of the purchaser. On May 20, Zimmerman said he had accepted a bid of $250,000 for the weapon.
According to the Seminole County voter records, Zimmerman is a member of the Democratic Party. According to his brother Robert, Zimmerman voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. Zimmerman has since become a critic of Obama.
In 2013, Public Policy Polling included Zimmerman as a potential Republican Party presidential candidate in an Alaska poll testing what person the state would support in the 2016 presidential election. Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, explained in an email that his firm had included Zimmerman because of his popularity among conservatives and curiosity as to "how he would do." In the survey, Zimmerman received 2% of support among Alaskans.
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- "Gun purportedly used to kill Trayvon Martin disappears from auction site". May 12, 2016.
- "Listing for gun that George Zimmerman used to kill Trayvon Martin dropped from auction site". adn.com. May 12, 2016.
- "George Zimmerman Explains His Rationale for Auctioning Pistol That Killed Trayvon Martin". ABC News. May 24, 2016.
- "George Zimmerman says that he will use $250G from his gun auction to fund conservative causes". New York Daily News. May 24, 2016.
- Stanglin, Doug (May 12, 2016). "George Zimmerman's auction of Trayvon Martin gun back on". USA Today. Retrieved May 12, 2016.
- "Bids in George Zimmerman gun auction up to $65M". USA Today. May 13, 2016.
- Espinoza, Joshua (May 13, 2016). "Martin Shkreli Wants to Buy the Gun George Zimmerman Used to Kill Trayvon Martin". complex.com.
- "George Zimmerman: Gun auction winner to be notified 'immediately'". Orlando Sentinel. May 18, 2016.
- "George Zimmerman says auction for Trayvon Martin gun is over; winning bid said to be over $100K". New York Daily News. May 18, 2016.
- Crockett, Jr., Stephen A. (May 19, 2016). "George Zimmerman Thanks 'God' After Gun Used to Kill Trayvon Martin Is Reported Sold for More Than $120,000". The Root.
- "Zimmerman reportedly sells gun that killed Trayvon Martin". CBS News. May 21, 2016.
- "George Zimmerman sells gun that killed Trayvon Martin for $250K". ktnv.com. May 20, 2016.
- Connor Adams Sheets. "Voting Form Shows George Zimmerman Is A Registered Democrat, Confounding Message Pushed By Left". International Business Times. Retrieved April 6, 2016.
- Hensch, Mark (January 6, 2016). "George Zimmerman rips Obama's 'crocodile tears' on guns". thehill.com.
- "George Zimmerman For President? Public Policy Polling Offers Alaska Republicans Controversial Choice". Huffington Post. August 6, 2013.
- "Democratic polling firm includes George Zimmerman in list of potential 2016 GOP candidates". TheBlaze. August 5, 2013.