The Trayvon Martin case goes silent after more than a month of drama
After more than a month of being one of the highest profile, most talked about killings in modern times, the case of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin went dark this week.
The new lawyer for George Zimmerman, Mark O’Mara, asked a Florida judge to seal off the records in the case to the press, prompting a lawsuit by several media groups, including NBC News, the Associated Press, CNN and the Miami Herald.
Zimmerman, 28, is charged with second degree murder in the death of Martin, 17, who Zimmerman spotted inside a gated community in Sanford, Florida on February 26th, pursuing him both in his SUV and on foot before the shooting, according to 911 calls that night.
The Sanford police failure to arrest Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, for more than a month following the shooting prompted nationwide and even international protests, and roiled the Sanford community. The case has created national fault lines along racial and even political lines, with celebrities, media figures, and even the president of the United States weighing in.
Now, however, O’Mara is working to quiet things down.
The attorney — Zimmerman’s third, after his previous lawyers stepped down, the day before his arrest, saying they had lost contact with him — asked the court to seal the records on the day of Zimmerman’s first appearance before a court in Seminole County, April 12th. The judge did not rule at that time.
Then, on Monday, O’Mara filed a motion seeking to remove the trial judge assigned to the case, Circuit Judge Jessica Reckseidler, after Reckseidler disclosed that her husband works in the law firm of Mark NeJame, a well-known Orlando trial lawyer who said he was contacted by Zimmerman on March 13th, but declined to represent him.
NeJame is a contracted legal analyst for CNN, and O’Mara expressed concern that his prior contact with the Zimmerman family could lead to on-air disclosures detrimental to the case.
Above all, O’Mara has made it clear he is looking to lower the temperature in the case, by keeping media scrutiny of the evidence to a minimum. Already, the shooting, and the Stand Your Ground law that prompted police to initially decline to arrest Zimmerman, have been dissected in the media and on social networks, at rallies and in living rooms across the country, and even around the world, leading some to wonder whether it’s possible for Zimmerman to receive a fair trial in Central Florida.
Media groups argue that the rules normally governing sealed cases don’t apply to this one. Already, news organizations including NBC News, CNN and ABC have interviewed potential witnesses in the case, including Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend, who phone records show was on the phone with him minutes before he died; and “ear-witnesses” who called 911 after hearing the scuffle between Zimmerman and the teen in their backyards. The 911 calls in the tape have also been placed into the public record, after Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett consented to media requests to hear them, over the objections of police.
Zimmerman’s father, brother and surrogates have made the media rounds, telling dramatic versions of Zimmerman’s side of the shooting story, and attacking the marchers and civil rights leaders who supported Trayvon Martin’s parents — including President Barack Obama — for weighing in on the case.
And then there are the leaks, many of them coming from within the Sanford police department, in apparent attempts to defend their investigation.
It’s hard to see how anything coming into the public sphere now would significantly alter the case.
But O’Mara is pushing for silence anyway, perhaps hoping that a respite from the daily doses of Zimmerman related news will enable the passions on both sides to cool, so that facts, and not those passions, will dictate the outcome of the case.
Zimmerman is scheduled to appear in court on Friday, to request bond. And his arraignment is set for May 29. There could be a delay if the judge is replaced.
Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport