Lawyers acting for George Zimmerman, the neighbourhood watch captain who killed Trayvon Martin, dramatically dropped him as their client today, saying they have "lost contact" with him after days of erratic behaviour.
Attorneys Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig said the 28-year-old had not spoken to them since Sunday and was refusing to respond to phone calls and text messages.
To their “astonishment,” he had telephoned the Florida prosecutors’ office, which is currently considering whether to charge him over the teenager's death, offering to discuss the case without lawyers present.
He had also spoken to the media and set up a fundraising website without their knowledge.
Mr Uhrig suggested that Mr Zimmerman was not thinking clearly, had lost weight, and was apparently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following the tumultuous events of the six weeks since the killing.
“This has been a terribly corrosive process," he said in a chaotic press conference in Orlando. "George Zimmerman in our opinion is not doing well emotionally, is probably suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. We are concerned for his physical and mental safety.
“Perhaps the pressure pushed him a little over the edge. You might even say [he is] emotionally crippled by the pressure of the case.”
Mr Sonner added: “I can't keep talking to the media and saying I'm representing George Zimmerman when he's doing things without consulting me. He has gone [out] on his own. I don't know what he's doing or who he's talking to.”
Mr Zimmerman claims he was acting in self-defence when he shot 17-year-old Trayvon in a gated community in the small town of Sanford in February.
Under Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, citizens are immune from prosecution if they kill someone but believe their own life is at risk.
The former security guard, whose father is white and mother Hispanic, has since become a national hate figure with a vigilante bounty on his head amid public outrage over the police decision not to arrest him.
Protesters claim he would have been treated differently had he been black and the victim white.
In the latest twist in the case, the lawyers said that while they still believed in his innocence, they could no longer “ethically” represent Mr Zimmerman because he was not in contact with them.
The “final straw” for the lawyers came when they learned that Mr Zimmerman had asked for a private conversation with the prosecutors’ office and, when told he should not speak without the attorneys, claimed that they did not represent him.
There were also concerns about a fundraising website which Mr Zimmerman set up this week, asking for money due to his “inability to work” following a “life altering event”.
The attorneys also said they were unhappy that the neighbourhood watch captain had contacted Fox News without their knowledge.
Having worked unpaid for him on a pro-bono basis, the two lawyers, who never met Mr Zimmerman in person, said they would be happy to resume the case if he contacted him.
They said Mr Zimmerman was still in the United States but suggested was in hiding for his own safety somewhere outside of the state of Florida.
Ben Crump, an attorney for the Martin family, said Trayvon's parents were now worried that Mr Zimmerman could flee justice. "At this point, we're just concerned that nobody knows where he is at. Nobody knows how to get to him," he said.