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The Orlando Sentinel , Published June 13 2012

Zimmerman’s wife becomes focus of attention

SANFORD, Fla. — George and Shellie Zimmerman struggled with money problems. The year they married, he was sued, accused of failing to pay a credit card bill. Three years later, she was sued for the same thing.

Both were in and out of community college, records show, and spent their first years together in a home owned by her parents.

Then their lives were turned upside down — George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, in February — and the money began pouring in.

Now what Shellie Zimmerman told a judge about family finances has made her a focus of national attention.

It is the reason her husband is back behind bars and the basis for her Tuesday arrest on a charge of perjury.

What is known about her?

She is a 25-year-old Longwood native who wants to be a nurse and, when pressed, aggressively defends her husband. Although George Zimmerman has been vilified, especially on the Internet, for killing Martin, she testified at his bond hearing in April that she had never seen him angry.

“Do you believe he’s a danger to the community?” asked his attorney, Mark O’Mara.

“No, I do not,” she said.

She and family members did not respond to phone calls and email from the Orlando Sentinel, but acquaintances described her as respectful, polite and a good match for Zimmerman.

George Michael Zimmerman married Shellie Nicole Dean in November 2007 in Daytona Beach, according to public records. He was 24. She was 20 and a cosmetologist who specialized in facials.

She enrolled at Seminole State College — formerly Seminole Community College — in the fall of 2008 and left the school in the fall of 2010, their records show.

Olivia Bertalan, a neighbor the couple helped after a burglary, described Shellie Zimmerman as a “stay-at-home student.”

“We had common interests,” Bertalan said. Both wanted to become nurses.

The couple had moved into Sanford’s Retreat at Twin Lakes in 2009, records show.

Frank Taaffe, one of George Zimmerman’s most visible friends and early defenders, said he met Shellie Zimmerman once or twice at homeowners association meetings. She was much less active in that group than her husband, he said.

Together the Zimmermans mentored two black middle-school students, a brother and sister, according to family members. Leanne Benjamin, a longtime friend of George Zimmerman’s, met the children in December, she said.

“They did this because of their love of education and a desire to help people,” she said of the couple, adding that she was aware they struggled with money.

“I know they didn’t have anything before this all happened,” she said.

That began to change in April when TheRealGeorgeZimmerman.com was created. It was a website dedicated to George Zimmerman that allowed supporters to make donations via PayPal.

On Feb. 26, George Zimmerman shot and killed Martin after calling authorities to report a suspicious person in his gated community. Sanford police did not arrest Zimmerman, saying they didn’t have enough evidence to contradict his self-defense claim.

The shooting set off a storm of controversy.

Zimmerman went into hiding. Civil rights leaders traveled to Sanford, and thousands of protesters took to the streets. Zimmerman and his family received death threats, and a growing chorus demanded his arrest.

Donations began to roll into the PayPal account, according to O’Mara and court records. They kept coming after a special prosecutor filed a second-degree-murder charge against Zimmerman on April 11, and he was locked up in the Seminole County Jail.

At a bond hearing April 20, Shellie Zimmerman testified that she and her husband were broke.

In truth, they had access to more than $130,000 in the PayPal account, according to prosecution paperwork.

George and Shellie Zimmerman talked about the money several times on a recorded phone line at the Seminole County Jail, according to court records.

He talked her through how to transfer it and directed her to pay off their bills, records show.

She moved $74,000 into her account during one four-day period while he was in jail, records show, and George Zimmerman’s sister transferred an additional $47,000 into hers.

On Tuesday, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey charged Shellie Zimmerman with perjury. She was released from a short stay in the Seminole County Jail after posting $1,000 bail.

What will happen now?

The charge is a felony and could carry a five-year prison term. But Bill Sheaffer, an Orlando defense attorney and legal analyst for WFTV, predicted that if she enters a plea, she would likely wind up on probation.

Shellie Zimmerman has no record of prior arrests, and the lies she’s charged with telling did not send an innocent man to prison or allow a guilty one to go free, he said.

Still, “if the criminal justice system is to seek the truth, nothing sabotages that more than a liar,” Sheaffer said.

Shellie Zimmerman is not a key witness in her husband’s case, and the lies she’s accused of telling probably won’t impact his prosecution, he said, but they did him no good.

Sheaffer said she has “significantly tarnished, at least in the court of public opinion, her husband’s credibility.”