George Zimmerman has stepped away from Joe Oliver as a media consultant, theGrio reported yesterday, and replaced him with a new criminal defense attorney with significant media experience, Hal Uhrig. Described as a “veteran attorney” by Florida’s Orlando Sentinel, Uhrig has also been a police officer, Florida assistant attorney general, and legal advisor to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office among many legal roles. A seasoned commentator on local Fox News outlets, Uhrig is already using his media savvy to discuss the Trayvon tragedy with articulate nuances. He has recently told the press that Martin is dead, “because that 6-foot-3 young man made a terrible decision and a bad judgment when he decided to smack somebody in the face and break their nose[.]”
NBC News correspondent Kerry Sanders spoke with Uhrig in depth today to learn more about his strategy for managing Zimmerman’s image in the media, and the possibility that his case will be heard in the courtroom. (Sanders, who is reporting for NBC from Sanford, Fla. with theGrio’s Joy-Ann Reid, conducted this interview and shared it with theGrio.com. TheGrio is a division of NBC News.)
Kerry Sanders: Do you have any indication from the special prosecutor of any sort of timetable and whether you are going to not be [only] an attorney, but rather a defense attorney?
Yeah we have a little bit of an indication. We are not free to discuss it at this point in time.
Would you become not an attorney, but rather a defense attorney based on the information you have?
Well, we’re right now we’re defending a reputation. We may be defending more than that later, but that’s up to somebody other than us.
Are you confident based on what you know from your client that he was simply defending himself and was not involved in something greater as the community — at least some people — have been protesting and suggesting?
Well the people that have been protesting, the one thing that they all have in common — they weren’t there. The other thing they have in common is that they’re making assumptions that are not based in fact. When all of the evidence comes out it’s going to be absolutely clear… when you apply the law to what actually happened, and by the way the forensic evidence all supports Mr. Zimmerman’s version of what happened.
Such as what forensic evidence?
You’ve got the injury — his nose is in fact broken. Forget that little grainy video “that doesn’t show anything.” Yeah, well guess what — he’s got lacerations on the back of his head, puffy face, broken nose, [an] eyewitness. Ugh.
There was an eyewitness that said he was the one on the ground and that Trayvon Martin was the one on top of him.
But that was an eyewitness before, after, or during the shooting?
Immediately before the shooting, and he is the one that identified George [Zimmerman] as the one that was calling for help. And he went in to call for that help when the shot rang out.
And was that eyewitness there to see the shot fired?
No. George Zimmerman was and nobody else who’s running their mouth was.
In addition to the broken nose and the lacerations that you suggest, if the police followed protocol, and you are a former police officer, in the 7 hour[s], 50 mins. investigation they did, they would have [found] blood splatter[ed] on his shirt.
Could be microscopic depending on proximity, so the question is how close was George Zimmerman to…
You’re going to find, the two of them were closely engaged. It was a basic point blank shot, but there’s going to be evidence that the police have, and they don’t do their investigation by sharing it with you and I and having a crowd vote on what they think about it as it goes along. They’ll do an entire investigation. Now the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — [a] very well resourced, credible law enforcement agency — has taken over a lot of the responsibility for that. The special prosecutor is investigating as though it’s a brand new start from the beginning. It’s going to be very, very thoroughly vetted and investigated and at that point in time a very well respected prosecutor is going to make a determination as to what they take to the grand jury. And whatever comes out is whatever is going to come out.
So are you confident in this police department’s investigation having been a police officer yourself?
Yeah well, I have not seen anything that we’re aware of in this police investigation that would make it suspect, any cover up, any kind of conspiracy
I’m not suggesting that.
That was my question.
It was done pretty much by the numbers.
They followed protocol?
As far as I can tell they did.
And that evidence, the trace evidence, the forensic evidence you believe it covers…
I believe everything that you’re going to find that comes out from a forensic standpoint or a witness standpoint is going to be consistent with the explanation given by George Zimmerman and the way the law is written in Florida and about 23 other states, if you are in fear for imminent injury, and when you’re getting your head slammed in the ground after your nose has been broken that’s a pretty good reason to have fear of imminent injury — then you are entitled to use force including deadly force to protect yourself.
And you are suggesting that’s exactly what happened here?
That’s exactly what happened.
George Zimmerman is where today?
Somewhere where he’s safe from the bounty hunters that are out looking for him and the crazies that have already made up their mind without the benefit of a trial or even a charge that he’s guilty of something.
Do you believe that there is not political pressure that the special prosecutor has to succumb to[?] The political pressure associated with the protests might suggest to some that this special prosecutor has no choice but to charge[.]
I’m hopeful after speaking with this prosecutor that she is someone who plays it by the book, she doesn’t listen to the latest poll, she doesn’t check how large the last crowd was. She’s going to look at the law, she’s going to look at the evidence and I’m very hopeful that she’s not going to succumb to what is called public pressure from people that just don’t know what they’re talking about. She’s going to figure out what actually happened and go by that.
Do you think that there’s a need for a grand jury to render charges or not?
This is the kind of case where a grand jury makes sense. You get a cross section of the community — people that aren’t invested in it one way or the other — hopefully they’re not swayed by public pressure, listen very carefully to all of the evidence, listen to the law, let the prosecutor advise them as to how that’s supposed to work out, make a dispassionate vote and… go by what the facts in the law are, not by the size of the crowd.
I’m listening to what you’re saying and I hear you without saying it — that you are prepared because you have an indication that there are going to be charges.
I’m not saying any such thing. I’m not confident, but I am very hopeful there will not be any charges. I’m never confident one way or the other. The grand jury is going to do what the grand jury is going to do. If there are charges, we will successfully defend them. If there are not, then justice will be done a little earlier.
Is there are any sense of a timetable for you? The reason I ask about a timetable is… I don’t know whether this is accurate, but we’re hearing that police have been told now that they need to be on alpha bravo shifts — being prepared for the potential of something to happen within the next couple of days.
You know… they’re going to have to make their preparations for the security of the community based on what they believe… these things take on a life of their own, the timeframe will be whatever it is. I’m not going to predict it and I have no ability to change it.
Is there anything else you’d like to add? In our earlier interviews with your colleague, he has been emphatic that George Zimmerman is not a racist, does not racially profile — perhaps you could should share some thoughts on that? Is there any belief in your mind that he [was] motivated to shoot in this particular case, because Trayvon Martin was black?
Absolutely none. This is a guy who comes from a multi-racial family, multi-racial neighborhood, mentored young African-American children. He’s got friends that are African-American… there’s not a bone in his body that we’ve been able to see that would suggest any reason to [think he might] be racist. He was doing what he was asked to do by his community. They got a newsletter that says if you see something suspicious, call George Zimmerman. And so he’s doing exactly what his community had asked him to do. Be vigilant, not a vigilante, be vigilant and for that now he’s being demonized.
It’s absolutely astonishing that with a broken nose, and with the evidence [of] Trayvon Martin[’s] six-foot-three inch reach on him — six inches taller than him, varsity football player — and what they put on the news is a picture that’s from 2005. You know I was cute when I was twelve. It’s absolutely absurd to try to enflame things by painting it in a way that’s inaccurate.
You’re saying it’s manipulative?
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb