NEW: Mark O'Mara says lawyers for Martin's family wrongly "victimized" his client
NEW: One of those lawyers it was "wrong" Zimmerman wasn't arrested at first
FIRST ON CNN: Zimmerman's life if acquitted? "Not a good one," defense lawyer says
The defendant has been living "mostly in hiding," adds Mark O'Mara
Whatever the six-woman jury mulling the fate of George Zimmerman decides, the former neighborhood watch volunteer charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin cannot emerge as a winner, according to his defense attorney.
Asked Wednesday what kind of life Zimmerman would lead if he were acquitted, Mark O’Mara told CNN’s Martin Savidge “not a good one.”
“He has to live mostly in hiding, he has to protect himself from that periphery that still believe that he’s some racist murderer or acted in a bad way,” O’Mara said. “I think that he’s probably concerned about living in central Florida and never having a normal life, and that’s unfortunate. His life will never be the same.”
O’Mara said he had received dozens of e-mails from people “who are vicious in their hatred for George Zimmerman – and for me. It’s absurd, but they’re there. So, I don’t know which is the one who’s going to walk down the street at the same time George does. They know what he looks like; he doesn’t know what they look like.”
But O’Mara offered no regrets about having taken on the high-profile, racially charged case in April 2012, two months after the black 17-year-old was shot dead in a Sanford, Florida, neighborhood while returning home one February night wearing a hoodie sweatshirt and carrying nothing more threatening than a bag of Skittles and a canned soft drink.
“It just seemed like it was perfect for me,” the lawyer said. “And you overlay that with the social questions about the case, the racism questions, the way this case is being viewed, even the stand-your-ground law itself, it just met on literally all eight cylinders.”
Florida’s stand-your-ground law, which allows the use of deadly force by someone facing a reasonable belief of an illegal threat, has also come under scrutiny in the case.
The defense lawyer said he typically does not even ask his clients – most of whom “have done something wrong” – whether they are innocent of whatever charge or charges they face. “It’s too personal, in a strange way,” he said.
But that was not the case with Zimmerman.
“Once I learned that George was significantly injured that night, and that he voluntarily complied with all law enforcement requests – from interviews to voice stress analysis tests to walkthroughs – I knew that there was something here different than most cases.”
He said he regretted that the case has divided the country along racial lines, which would not be erased by the verdict. “Half of the country is going to be upset with the verdict. It’s absurd,” he said. “And it’s absurd that 75% of the people who were asked about whether or not George Zimmerman could get a fair trial a month before the trial started said no. That should never happen in our country. There shouldn’t be 1% of our population who believes that anybody cannot get a fair trial.”
Zimmerman’s father has accused the counsel of not stating forcefully enough that his son was innocent, but the lawyer defended his actions. “While I could have gone up to the top of the stairs and screamed his innocence at the top of my lungs, I would have only incensed those very people who I really wanted to do some reaching out to,” he said.
He credited that tack with having lowered the intensity of the public anger that boiled over in the initial stages of the case. “There are not a lot of people screaming at the top of their lungs any more that George is a racist, and they’re not even saying that he’s a murderer,” he said. “I think people get that he’s a non-racist.”
O’Mara cited his client’s work as a mentor to black children and his having taken a black girl to his prom as evidence of his nonracist beliefs. “You didn’t have to scratch very far below the surface to realize that George Zimmerman is an anti-racist,” he said.
O’Mara said he has funded some of the defense work out of his own pocket. “People still need to be paid,” he said, “depositions need to be taken.” While he welcomed donations from the public, most of them in $10 to $100 amounts, he said he has rejected “a dozen or thereabouts” donations that came with messages expressing racist points of view.
This trial would never have happened – and Zimmerman would never be the subject of death threats, even if he’s acquitted – if it weren’t for the efforts of lawyers for Martin’s family, led by Benjamin Crump, contends O’Mara.
“They victimized him,” the defense lawyer said. “George Zimmerman was victimized by a publicity campaign to smear him, to call him a racist when he wasn’t, and to call him a murderer when he wasn’t.”
When confronted with these comments Friday night, Crump countered by saying that Zimmerman’s team “seemed to forget that Trayvon Martin was dead, (an) unarmed kid on the ground who his client profiled, followed, pursued and shot in the heart.”
“They had … a confessed killer, and they weren’t going to arrest him,” Crump told CNN’s Piers Morgan, adding that he felt compelled to help Martin’s parents press the case. “There’s something wrong with that.”
On the other side, O’Mara said politics appeared to have affected the way the case was handled by the prosecution. He noted that a special prosecutor was brought in “when there doesn’t seem to be any reason why,” and that “most good analysts” believed the charges filed were “an abomination.”
But he had praise for Judge Debra Nelson, who has overseen the case. “Even though the rulings did not go our way like I would like them to, she was always well-prepared. She does her case law research, she does her homework,” he said. “You mention a case, she knows the case. Those are the signs of a very good judge.”
He predicted that justice would ultimately prevail in the form of an acquittal for Zimmerman but acknowledged that the jury deliberation would be a difficult time for him.
“I can’t eat, I can’t work, I just have to wait, it is the worst thing,” he said. “It’s sort of like waiting for a child to be born or something. … I don’t think there’s anything else you can do.”
CNN’s Martin Savidge carried out the interview in Lake Mary, Tom Watkins wrote it from Atlanta. CNN’s Greg Botelho contributed to this report.