Saving Face: Florida Prosecutors, Shellie Zimmerman Strike Plea Deal

There will be no perjury trial for Shellie Zimmerman, but her state-caused tribulations will continue for at least a year.

I wrote about the charge against Shellie, a charge virtually devoid of evidence, on August 14. Last week, Shellie’s trial date of August 21 was postponed in lieu of a status conference. The most common reason for such postponements this close to trial is an imminent plea agreement; this is exactly what happened:

Shellie Zimmerman, the wife of acquitted murder suspect George Zimmerman, admitted Wednesday that she had committed perjury to help her husband get out of jail and agreed to a plea deal that requires her to serve a year of probation.

Shellie Zimmerman had been charged with felony perjury, which carried a possible sentence of five years in prison. Instead, she negotiated a deal to plead guilty to a less serious crime -- misdemeanor perjury.

She was composed during her 10-minute hearing, answering questions from Circuit Judge Marlene Alva in a clear, confident voice, saying, “Yes, ma'am,” when asked if she understood what she was doing.

Part of the plea deal required Shellie to write a letter of apology to Judge Lester, who was removed from George Zimmerman’s case for his blatant bias against Zimmerman:

Shellie Zimmerman had no prior criminal record, and Assistant State Attorney John Guy of Jacksonville agreed to allow her to plead guilty to the lesser charge. … It was a negotiation designed to spare her a felony conviction and allow her to move on with her life.

When she was arrested, she was a nursing student nearly done with her schooling. Had she been found guilty of a felony, she would have been banned from applying to become a state-certified nurse for three years.

Does the fact that Shellie admitted to perjury and wrote an apology indicate that the prosecution was right?

Consider her position: despite George’s acquittal, he and Shellie are far from well off. She continues to run up a defense bill at the rate of hundreds of dollars per hour. A trial would add tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands in legal fees. Their future is in many ways out of their hands, and at the moment neither of them has a chance at the kind of solid employment that would allow them to live a low-profile life. It’s highly unlikely that the media and Zimmerman haters will ever allow them peace.

The arrests of George and Shellie halted their educations, preventing George from pursuing his dream of becoming a police officer and preventing Shellie from finishing her nursing education. A felony conviction would not only postpone Shellie’s ability to apply for nursing certification for at least three years, it would make her virtually unemployable as a nurse anywhere.

This plea bargain solved all of those problems and more. For a guilty plea to a misdemeanor, Shellie got her life back, as well as the potential for a future. No misdemeanor conviction would prevent Shellie from working as a nurse, and because adjudication is being deferred, after a year of probation Shellie will not have been convicted of even that.

Her record will be as clean as it was before George Zimmerman had the misfortune to save his life, thereby blundering into a racial and political perfect storm.

Her probation will likely be a mere formality; there is no evidence to indicate that she is anything other than an honest person caught up in a Kafkaesque drama.

But if she is truly innocent, why not go to trial? Kelly Simms, who represents Shellie, said he believes she could win, and if the affidavit is any indication of the utter lack of evidence against her -- just as the affidavit against George was -- there is every reason to believe Simms is right.

Yet the prosecutors have unlimited (taxpayer) resources. There are no financial pressures on them, and the media, particularly the national media, is mostly ignoring this case. On the other hand, every hour spent on this case is costing the Zimmermans dearly. While Shellie very well might be acquitted with the evidence against her incredibly weak or even non-existent, any trial is a gamble. Why not take a sure thing, particularly when, after a year of probation, there will be no record of conviction?

Further, the psychological relief of having this prosecutorial wolfpack off her back cannot be overstated.

What’s in it for the prosecutors? It is possible that John Guy, assistant prosecutor for Angela Corey, has a conscience. He may have realized that in prosecuting Shellie his office was stepping past professionalism and decency. But if that is so, why not dismiss the case? Particularly since the plea bargain he struck amounts to precisely the same thing: no record for Shellie Zimmerman.