Thu April 12, 2012
In Interview, Zimmerman's Lawyer Says Trial Won't Happen In 2012
When he appeared in court on second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman was accompanied by his new defense attorney, Mark O'Mara. Hours after the hearing, O'Mara told NPR that he doubts the case will go to trial in 2012.
But in the meantime, O'Mara tells Tell Me More host Michel Martin, he'd like to get his client out of jail.
"I think he deserves to be out on bond, with whatever conditions the court believes appropriate to protect him, and the process," O'Mara says. "I would like him out, so that he can assist me in preparing for his defense."
Zimmerman, who told police that he acted in self-defense when he shot the unarmed Martin in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26, was arrested Wednesday. He is being kept in the Seminole County jail.
You can learn more about the prosecution's case against Zimmerman by reading Corey Dade's post on the probable cause affidavit. Below, highlights from Michel's interview with O'Mara, which will air Friday:
On how he came to take the case:
"I was contacted by some friends on behalf of Mr. Zimmerman, and an attorney who was helping him try to find counsel. And I guess I was on a list of several attorneys. So, we had some conversations. I had to talk to my wife [and] my staff to decide if it was a case that we wanted to get involved in. Because obviously, it's a fairly enormous undertaking."
On staying in touch with Zimmerman:
"I am his attorney of record. And I have confidence that he has confidence in me."
"I think he's under an enormous amount of emotional strain, stemming from the isolation that he's been in for several weeks from the event, stemming from the fact that he was involved in an event, in some form or fashion, that caused the death of Trayvon Martin."
"So, that carries with it an enormous level of stress, and of concern. And, of course, he's now facing second-degree murder charges. So, for a 28-year-old, that's gotta be very difficult to deal with. But I think he's dealing with it as best as can be expected."
On whether the charge of second-degree murder is fair:
"I know so little about the facts of the case right now, I truly do, that trying to second-guess the prosecutor, who has had all the information in front of her — I would just be guessing. And I truly don't want to do that."
On the question of why Zimmerman got out of his car:
"I have no idea — and that would be a comment on the evidence, which is improper for attorneys to do... it would also, of course, be improper for me to discuss what I may have discussed with him. I will state that I have not had conversations with him about the facts of the case — because it's well too early in my representation to even get to that point."
On whether Zimmerman would be safe if he were released on bond:
"I don't think that today, in this community, it would be safe for him to be at large. But I think that we can protect him. I don't think that him being safe is the only reason why we should have him incarcerated, without having been found guilty of anything."
On whether he will ask to move the trial:
"I have no idea. It's much too early. That process really should occur only when you're getting close to trial."
On when might the trial start:
"Again, without even having seen the evidence, and knowing what it's going to take to analyze it, evaluate it, and respond to it, it would be guesswork. But, most cases like this, I cannot imagine it going to trial within the year."
On ensuring a fair trial for Zimmerman:
"If you were to ask me, 'Could we try this case in Seminole County today?' I think I would say 'No.' I think the emotions are still running high. You know, the wounds are still quite raw. And I think we would need to give it some time. And part of it is, I would like to give the community some time, to begin to build back up its trust in the criminal justice process."
"I think that there have been a lot of people concerned with the way the case was handled in the early stages, and that that has lead to suspicions. So, I think as we work through the process of convincing, if you will, the community that this case is going to be handled properly, and at the end, justice will be served — hopefully — then that will help us all... that we sort of rebuild their confidence."
On the possibly using Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' defense:
"I don't know... certainly there seems to be a facet of the case which will be that self defense was an issue. And when I say 'self defense,' people always now say, 'Stand Your Ground.' Because that seems to be the now catch-phrase for what self defense is, and the way we've changed those statutes."
"I don't know where along the line self defense is going to play within it, but I'm certain it's going to have a part."
On any clarifications:
"As an attorney looking at the case before my involvement, I was frustrated by the fact that information flow out of the case was happening the way it was happening. And I noticed that the way that the — call them leaks, or information — was occurring was really leading to more frustration, and anger, and upset than it was resolving."
"So if I have any frustration, it would be that I wish the case wasn't handled the way it was handled through today, as far as some of the information flow going out. Because it's really supposed to happen during the discovery process."
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. My thanks to Viviana Hurtado for sitting in for me while I was out - visiting, among other places, our member station WRVO in Syracuse, New York. Today we are hitting a number of hot button issues in the broadcast.
Later we'll talk about this latest chapter in the so-called Mommy Wars that opened up after a Democratic strategist charged that Ann Romney, a stay-at-home mother of five, quote, "never worked a day in her life," unquote. The strategist, also a mother, later retracted and apologized for her remarks. But we wonder whether the remarks will actually have any impact on the fight for women voters.
We'll talk about that just ahead in our political chat. But first, we want to return to a story that has captured the nation's attention for many weeks now. George Zimmerman remains jailed after being charged with second degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. His shooting of the unarmed black teenager set off national protests during the 45 days between the incident and Zimmerman's arrest.
After a highly public split with the attorneys who had been advising him and speaking for him in the press and with investigators, George Zimmerman now has a new attorney. He is Mark O'Mara and he joined us earlier to talk about his client and this case. Mr. O'Mara, thanks so much for speaking with us.
MARK O'MARA: Sure. No problem.
MARTIN: If you can tell us without violating attorney/client privilege, can you tell us how you became involved in this case?
O'MARA: I was contacted by some friends on behalf of Mr. Zimmerman and an attorney who was helping him try to find counsel. And I guess I was on a list of several attorneys. So we had some conversations. I had to talk to my wife, my staff, to decide if it was a case that we want to get involved in, because obviously it's a fairly enormous undertaking.
Got back in touch with them, decided that it was something that I would like to get involved in, and then had some more conversations and talked to George himself in the afternoon
MARTIN: And the two individuals who were assisting him before expressed some concern about his mental and emotional state, you know, recognizing that this is a very traumatic experience, as it would be for anybody. Do you have confidence that he is mentally and emotionally capable of assisting in his defense?
O'MARA: Certainly he can assist in his defense. I think he's under an enormous amount of emotional strain stemming from the isolation that he's been in for several weeks from the event, stemming from the fact that he was involved in an event, in some form or fashion, that caused the death of Trayvon Martin. So that carries with it an enormous level of stress and of concern.
And of course he's now facing second degree murder charges. So for a 28-year-old that's got to be very difficult to deal with. But I think he's dealing with it as best can be expected.
MARTIN: What is second degree murder in Florida? Can you explain exactly what that charge entails?
O'MARA: It could include an act with reckless disregard for human life. And if you read the statute, that's sort of what it talks about. It is a level of offense in Florida for which you could get a life sentence if convicted at that level, but basically the charge talks about doing an act sort of - either a depraved mind or reckless disregard for life.
MARTIN: What's the difference with second and first degree in Florida? Is it first degree implies premeditation and second degree - does second degree imply that it was an accident? Or not?
O'MARA: No. First degree is one of two way – one of two possibilities. One is premeditated murder, where they show premeditation to effectuate the death of another, and then felony murder, which is simply if you are committing a felony of some sort, could be a robbery, and somebody dies, then that could be considered felony murder. And that's another way to get to first degree murder.
Second degree murder doesn't include the premeditation, doesn't include an existing felony; it just includes a different standard, one of, you know, again, reckless disregard, or depraved mind is another statute that they – or another term that they reference of how to handle a murder case.
MARTIN: Given the facts as we know them, do you think that this is a fair charge? I know that, you know, criminal defense attorneys sometimes believe that prosecutors quote/unquote "overcharge" a case in order to try to compel or negotiate a plea. Do you think this is a fair charge, given the facts as we know them?
O'MARA: Yeah. I know so little about the facts of the case right now – I truly do – that trying to second guess the prosecutor who has had all the information in front of her, I would just be guessing. And I truly don't want to do that.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're speaking with Mark O'Mara. He represents George Zimmerman and will be representing him in the charge that he's facing of second degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. We reached him at his office. You had - I noticed at your press conference, your meeting with the media earlier - some very empathetic comments about Trayvon Martin's parents and what you would understand about what they're going through at a time like this.
But Trayvon's mother issued a statement saying that George Zimmerman initiated this confrontation and none of this would have happened if he had not gotten out of his car. And so the question is, why did he get out of the car? Do you know? Can you tell us?
O'MARA: I have no idea and that would be a comment on the evidence, which is improper for attorneys to do.
MARTIN: Have you asked him?
O'MARA: It would also, of course, be improper for me to discuss what I may have discussed with him. I will state that I have not had conversations with him about the facts of the case because it's well too early in my representation to even get to that point.
MARTIN: Have you talked at all, or have you had a chance to investigate his physical circumstances at this point, and are you confident that you will be able to kind of work with him adequately to prepare him for this experience where he is currently?
O'MARA: His physical circumstances presently?
O'MARA: You mean where he is?
MARTIN: Yeah, where he is.
O'MARA: Oh. He's in Seminole County Jail. I would like him to not be in the Seminole County Jail. I think he deserves to be out on bond with whatever conditions the court believe appropriate to protect him and the process and secure his attendance at trial, which is truly the reason for bond. I would like him out so that he can assist me in preparing for his defense.
MARTIN: Given all the public attention to this case, do you think it's possible that he can be safe out of jail?
O'MARA: I don't think that today in this community it would be safe for him to be at large, but I think that we can protect him. I don't think that him being safe is the only reason why we should have him incarcerated without having been found guilty of anything.
MARTIN: Have you any idea when a trial may proceed, when it actually may commence?
O'MARA: Truly don't. Again, without even having seen the evidence and knowing what it's going to take to analyze it, evaluate it, and respond to it, it would be guesswork. But most cases like this I cannot imagine it going to trial within the year.
MARTIN: Within the year.
O'MARA: I would not imagine.
MARTIN: I think I have this right – and forgive me, I really was actually getting on a plane when I was hearing you talk – I think you said that Mr. Zimmerman is concerned about getting a fair trial. Do I have that right? Is he concerned?
O'MARA: I did not say that.
MARTIN: OK. I'm glad I asked then. Are you?
O'MARA: By the time we – if we get to trial, first of all, if we make that decision to have a trial, the months down the road that that will be made, it's much better to make that decision at that point. If you were to ask me, could we try this case in Seminole County today, I think I would say no. I think the emotions are still running high. You know, the wounds are still quite raw, and I think we would need to give it some time.
And part of it is, I would like to give the community some time to begin to build back up its trust in the criminal justice process. I think that there have been a lot of people concerned with the way the case was handled in the early stages and that that has led to suspicions. So I think as we work through the process of convincing, if you will, the community that this case is going to be handled properly and at the end justice will be served, hopefully, then, you know, that will help us all (unintelligible) rebuild our confidence.
MARTIN: I noticed that you are a former president of the Seminole County Bar Association, that you've also been a legal analysis for some other high profile cases that have been in the media in Florida.
And I wanted to ask, you know, based on that experience, do you have a sense of why so many people outside of that immediate area are so concerned about this?
O'MARA: Well, I think the facts, as were presented, suggest that there may have been some concerns over the way it was handled by law enforcement and that there may have been reasons for that related to Trayvon Martin's race, and that that is a - when that arises as a possibility, it causes an immediate conversation - and I think conversations like that are healthy - but that's great for those conversations to occur. They just now should no longer occur within the confines of a criminal case. This is not the forum or the place for it.
You know, we now have a focus on this case getting tried or settled or figured out within the confines of how you handle a criminal case.
MARTIN: Do you know yet whether you will be invoking the so-called Stand Your Ground Law in defending Mr. Zimmerman's actions that day?
O'MARA: I don't know, because I don't know the evidence and what that's going to suggest as an appropriate response for defense to it. From the little bit, the leaks or the dribbles that we've heard through law enforcement and the media, certainly there seems to be a facet of the case which will be that self-defense was an issue. And when I say self-defense, people always now say Stand Your Ground because that seems to be the now catch phrase for what self-defense is and the way we've changed those statutes.
I don't know where along the line self-defense is going to play within it, but I'm certain it's going to have a part.
MARTIN: Well, finally, before we let you go - and I do thank you for speaking with us on this very busy day, you know, at these very early stages of this very important story - and I do hope we'll speak again(ph) - I wanted to ask if there's anything based on what you know now that you wish to clarify, any misconception or any inaccuracy that you think has gained wide currency that you feel it's important to clarify at this juncture.
O'MARA: I'm not sure that I would call it one inaccuracy, but as an attorney looking at the case, before my involvement I was frustrated by the fact that information flow out of the case was happening the way it was happening, and I noticed that the way that the (unintelligible) leaks or information was occurring was really leading to more frustration and anger and upset than it was resolving.
So if I had any frustration, it would be that I wish the case wasn't handled the way it was handled through today, as far as some of the information flow going out, because it's really supposed to happen within the discovery process.
MARTIN: Mark O'Mara is the attorney for George Zimmerman. He's been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. Mr. O'Mara was kind enough to join us from his office in Florida.
Mark O'Mara, thank you so much for speaking with us and I do hope we'll speak again.
O'MARA: OK. All right. Take care now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.