Today, attorney Mark O’Mara accompanied his new client George Zimmerman for his first appearance in court. Zimmerman was taken into custody yesterday by Florida law enforcement, 45 days after the defendant killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder on Wednesday by the special prosecutor in the case, Angela Corey.
On the same day, the public was introduced to Mark O’Mara as the latest lawyer in the evolving roster of Zimmerman’s representation.
Zimmerman’s previous lawyers, Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig, announced on Tuesday that they were abjuring Zimmerman as their client because of his erratic behavior.
Supporters of Trayvon Martin were simultaneously shocked by this revelation and quietly relieved that State Attorney Angela Corey had brought second-degree murder charges against Zimmerman after her three-week investigation.
But O’Mara has a different perspective on the state attorney’s decision.
“That type of crime sort of suggests that he did something truly unlawful,” O’Mara told CNN on the heels of Corey’s announcement. “And I think the evidence so far suggests there was at least question and controversy over what happened.”
Zimmerman’s new attorney is already working hard on his behalf. Within hours of his appointment, O’Mara was navigating the court of public opinion. Soon after that, the lanky lawyer was standing beside his client in a formal court of law.
O’Mara’s unique blend of skills make him well-suited to both tasks.
As a defense attorney, felony prosecutor, and television pundit, O’Mara is a highly accomplished attorney with 28 years of experience. He is also the only lawyer in Florida “presently certified as both a criminal trial specialist and a family law specialist,” Florida station The Daily Beast about the seasoned barrister. “He knows how to deal with the media, but not be a media hog.”
The in-depth Daily Beast piece also describes O’Mara as “Catholic-educated, a graduate of the Florida State University Law School,” and the current president of the Seminole County Bar Association.
“He loves dogs, and local court watchers call him variations of ‘straightforward, professional, solid, and a real grownup,’” the profile warmly adds.
In a case such as Zimmerman’s, which has already received the passionate attention of a divided populace, O’Mara’s mature guidance will be crucial.
O’Mara’s reported experience using “Stand Your Ground” as the centerpiece of defense cases can also be pivotal for Zimmerman. O’Mara has revealed that Zimmerman will plead not guilty, and it is likely that “Stand Your Ground” will be invoked to support Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense.
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense statute originally informed the decision of Sanford police to let Zimmerman go free and uncharged after killing Trayvon Martin with a registered handgun on February 26. The ordinance authorizes one to meet a perceived deadly threat with equally deadly force, without retreating.
“Stand Your Ground” can grant Zimmerman legal immunity from the repercussions of killing Martin, but O’Mara will have to establish through “a preponderance of the evidence” that the use of deadly force was necessary.
O’Mara is likely up to the task. CNN states that in 2004, “Mara received state-wide attention while defending Shamir Suber, who was charged with second-degree murder for killing a young nurse with his car while trying to evade police,” according to the Daily News. The attorney was able to have the charge reduced to the far lighter crime of DUI manslaughter.
O’Mara commented on “Stand Your Ground” regarding Zimmerman’s case, before becoming his attorney, as a legal pundit for WKMG.
“People call it the license-to-murder statute because it doesn’t require actions to avoid the confrontation,” O’Mara told Rock Center with Brian Williams that, “We have to look at what the statute says that is presently the law in Florida.”
Then he plans to “see what the facts say to support which way it happened,” O’Mara said on the show.
O’Mara has spoken to the limitations his previous attorneys might have placed on Zimmerman’s defense strategy going forward. As an analyst for WKMG — before taking on Zimmerman’s case — O’Mara chastised the defendant’s former lawyers for revealing too many details about the man they had ceased representing. Ulrig and Sonner gave a press conference to announce their split from Zimmerman, and portrayed the man as a mentally unstable flight risk.
“If George Zimmerman came to me tomorrow and said, ‘I want you to represent me,’ I would look at the press conference and say, ‘Mr. Uhrig identified a potential defense. He outlined the facts of what happened, and he cemented what George Zimmerman can now say,’” O’Mara said. “And that’s problematic if other evidence comes out that conflicts with it.”
Zimmerman’s formal arraignment will take place on May 29 at 1:30, and will be presided over by Judge Jessica J. Recksiedler. After Zimmerman’s first appearance in court today, O’Mara stressed to assembled reporters eager for answers that he hasn’t reviewed the evidence, so cannot comment on the defense strategy.
O’Mara confirmed speculation that he is not taking attorney’s fees, because his client lacks the resources, while there is a program that allows the state to assist destitute clients with court costs.
Zimmerman is being held in a segregated cell in protective custody, the attorney also revealed.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb