The New York Times
By SERGE F. KOVALESKI
and LIZETTE ALVAREZ
Fla. — A tall, lanky red-headed lawyer named Mark O’Mara appeared in court here
on Thursday, standing next to his newest client, George Zimmerman, one of the
most recognizable defendants in the country but a man he had met for the first
time only the night before at the county jail.
Mr. Zimmerman, 28, has become known to millions as the neighborhood watch
organizer who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, six
weeks ago, but who was initially not charged with any crime — unleashing a
Mr. O’Mara, a New Yorker by birth and a criminal defense lawyer for nearly three
decades, is perhaps best known in central Florida as a low-key legal analyst on
television who frequently commented on the trial last year of Casey Anthony, who
was accused — and acquitted — of killing her young daughter.
It was Mr. Zimmerman’s first moment in court, and he looked wide-eyed and grim
in a one-piece blue-gray prison uniform, a couple of day’s growth on his face.
Mr. O’Mara said that his client would plead not guilty and that he would try to
get him out of jail within the next couple of weeks. Until then, Mr. Zimmerman,
who was charged with second-degree murder on Wednesday, is being held in
protective custody. A conviction could result in a prison term of 25 years to
After seeing his client on Thursday, Mr. O’Mara said in an interview that Mr.
Zimmerman was distraught. “He is stressed and tired after long weeks of not
being able to go out in public,” Mr. O’Mara, 56, said. “In the best of
circumstances, he was dealing with the reality that he caused the death of
somebody, and that weighs on you.”
Saying his client has no money, Mr. O’Mara said that he was not charging Mr.
Zimmerman and that he hoped to secure a low bond.
Mr. Zimmerman and his family have maintained that he was trailing Mr. Martin
because the young man appeared suspicious. Mr. Martin then disappeared from
view, only to re-emerge, confront him and assault him, they say. In the fight,
they contend, he shot Mr. Martin in self-defense. Florida’s expansive
self-defense law, Stand Your Ground, was cited initially as a reason why no
charges were brought.
In a four-page charging affidavit filed in court on Thursday, prosecutors added
little to the known facts in the case. But the affidavit contradicted the
Zimmerman family account in at least one crucial respect.
“Martin attempted to run home,” it said, “but was followed by Zimmerman who
didn’t want the person he falsely assumed was going to commit a crime to get
away before the police arrived.”
“Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued,” it stated. It also asserted
that Mr. Zimmerman “profiled” Mr. Martin.
Mr. O’Mara said self-defense cases were not new to him; he said that he had
handled dozens, but that none had gone to trial as Stand Your Ground cases. He
has also tried high-profile death-penalty cases.
He said that self-defense would probably be a “facet” of Mr. Zimmerman’s
defense. Last month, Mr. O’Mara told a local television station that Mr.
Martin’s shooting could be legally justified under the law, which allows people
to use deadly force if they feel endangered. “Other people call it the license
to murder statute because it doesn’t require actions to avoid the
confrontation,” Mr. O’Mara said in the appearance.
He was critical of the law on Wednesday, however, saying it has “some
troublesome portions to it.” But, he added, “right now it’s the law of Florida
and that will have an impact on this case.”
Mr. O’Mara, who grew up in Rosedale, Queens, the son of a battalion chief in the
New York City Fire Department, came to this case suddenly, after another
well-known lawyer, Mark NeJame, referred him and four other lawyers. Mr. NeJame,
who said Mr. Zimmerman had consented to his speaking, declined a March 13
request by Mr. Zimmerman to take his case because it would have required too
much time away from his family.
On Tuesday, Mr. Zimmerman’s original two lawyers held a news conference to
resign, saying that they could not get in touch with Mr. Zimmerman and that he
was acting “erratic.” Mr. NeJame got a call a day later from a close family
friend of the Zimmermans. He gave the friend a list of the five lawyers; they
chose Mr. O’Mara.
“I thought Mark had strong attributes like being compassionate, extremely smart,
media savvy and very professional,” Mr. NeJame said. “Mark has a measured
approach and by bringing him in, it would help keep unbridled passions
The Martin family expressed relief on Thursday over the charges. Exhausted by
the ordeal, Mr. Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said she had misspoken on a
news program earlier in the day when she used the word “accident” to describe
the shooting. It was not the shooting that was the accident, she said; it was
the encounter between Mr. Martin and Mr. Zimmerman. “The accident came when
Zimmerman exited his vehicle and they met,” she said.
Asked whether he would use her words in court, Mr. O’Mara displayed his flair
for discretion. “They went through a horrible tragedy,” he said. “They lost
their son. We’re not going to be talking about using words against the mother of
a deceased child.”
The New York Times
By SERGE F. KOVALESKI,
and MICHAEL COOPER
Fla. — George Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer arrested on
murder charges in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old,
is scheduled to make his first court appearance Thursday afternoon.
Mr. Zimmerman, 28, was charged by a special prosecutor on Wednesday evening with
second-degree murder. He is likely to appear with a new lawyer, Mark M. O’Mara,
a well-known criminal lawyer, but it is not clear if a judge will set bail, or
if Mr. Zimmerman will formally enter a plea.
Mr. O’Mara said in a brief interview on Wednesday night that when the time comes
his client would plead not guilty.
Mr. O’Mara also said he hoped that the judge would take up a bond motion at
Thursday’s hearing — which is expected to be brief — but that he expected that
the issue of bail might have to wait for a more extensive hearing in the near
The charges, which Mr. Martin’s family praised but called overdue, opened a new
chapter in a case that set off a searing national discussion of racial
profiling, Florida’s expansive self-defense law and the fairness of the criminal
The charges against Mr. Zimmerman were announced by Angela B. Corey, the state
attorney for the Jacksonville area, who was appointed as a special prosecutor in
the case after the local state attorney stepped aside in the wake of criticism
that the case had been moving too slowly. Ms. Corey took pains to praise the
local law enforcement officials at a news conference in Jacksonville, and
pledged to pursue justice for the family of Mr. Martin, who was killed in a
gated community here six weeks ago.
Asked about the racial overtones of the case — Mr. Martin, who was black, was
shot and killed by Mr. Zimmerman, a Hispanic man who was not immediately
arrested by the local police — Ms. Corey said that law enforcement officials
were committed to justice for all, regardless of race, gender or background.
“We only know one category as prosecutors, and that’s a ‘V,’ ” Ms. Corey said.
“It’s not a ‘B,’ it’s not a ‘W,’ it’s not an ‘H.’ It’s ‘V,’ for victim. That’s
who we work tirelessly for. And that’s all we know, is justice for our victims.”
If convicted of second-degree murder, Mr. Zimmerman, 28, could face life in
prison. It is the toughest charge he could have faced. First-degree murder would
have required a finding of premeditation and a grand jury review, which Ms.
Corey decided against this week.
Mr. Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, praised the decision to
arrest and charge Mr. Zimmerman at an emotional news conference in Washington,
where they had been meeting with their lawyers and supporters. “We simply wanted
an arrest,” Ms. Fulton said. “We wanted nothing more and nothing less, we just
wanted an arrest. And we got it. And I say, ‘Thank you, thank you, Lord, thank
you, Jesus.’ ”
Mr. Zimmerman arrived at the Seminole County Jail around 8:25 p.m. and stepped
out of a black S.U.V. in the custody of law enforcement agents.
The killing of Trayvon Martin incited outrage and protest marches across the
country. He was shot on the evening of Feb. 26 as he returned from buying
Skittles and iced tea at a 7-Eleven, bound for the home in a gated community in
Sanford, a small city just north of Orlando, where he and his father were
Mr. Zimmerman, the founder of the local neighborhood watch, called 911 that
evening to report that Mr. Martin looked like “a real suspicious guy.” Some
questioned whether Mr. Martin attracted Mr. Zimmerman’s attention simply because
he was black. Others were outraged by the slow reaction of the local police and
prosecutors, who did not immediately arrest and charge Mr. Zimmerman, saying
that Florida’s self-defense law could make it difficult to prove a criminal case
President Obama weighed in on the case at one point, saying, “If I had a son,
he’d look like Trayvon.” After television commentators suggested that Mr. Martin
might have looked suspicious because he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, people
around the country began donning them in solidarity. LeBron James and other
members of the Miami Heat basketball team posed in them for a photograph they
posted on Twitter. Representative Bobby L. Rush, Democrat of Illinois, even wore
one on the floor of the House, saying “Just because someone wears a hoodie does
not make them a hoodlum.”
The case drew attention to Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, which was enacted
seven years ago after lobbying by the National Rifle Association, over the
objections of many law enforcement officials. The law gives the benefit of the
doubt to people who claim self-defense, even if they are not in their homes; it
says that people who feel that they are in danger do not need to retreat, even
if it would seem reasonable to do so.
In this case, Mr. Zimmerman, who had founded a neighborhood watch over the
summer after a string of burglaries in the area, saw Mr. Martin, began following
him and called 911, telling the dispatcher that he appeared “suspicious.”
The dispatcher asked if Mr. Zimmerman was following him. “Yeah,” Mr. Zimmerman
“O.K., we don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher said. Mr. Zimmerman said:
The case will probably hinge on what happened next.
A lawyer for Mr. Martin’s parents, Benjamin Crump, has said that Mr. Martin was
speaking on his cellphone at the time with his girlfriend, and told her that he
was being followed. Mr. Crump said that the girl heard him being asked what he
was doing before the line went dead.
Mr. Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman, gave a different account: he has said
that his son had lost sight of Mr. Martin, who then appeared from behind and
Witnesses then told 911 that they saw two men fighting. Then Mr. Martin was shot
in the chest and killed.
The Sanford police came under heavy criticism when they did not arrest Mr.
Zimmerman, saying that they had no evidence to dispute his claim of
self-defense. The police chief, Bill Lee, eventually stepped down from his post.
The state appointed the special prosecutor. And the Justice Department announced
that it would open a federal civil rights investigation.
Ms. Corey, the special state prosecutor who announced the charges, said that if
Mr. Zimmerman’s lawyers invoke the state’s Stand Your Ground law in his defense,
and prosecutors do not believe the shooting was justified, they will challenge
“This case is just like many of the shooting deaths we’ve had in our circuit,”
she said. “If Stand Your Ground becomes an issue, we fight it if we believe it’s
the right thing to do.”
Mr. Zimmerman changed his lawyers this week, and his old legal team held an odd
news conference on Tuesday to say that they were withdrawing from the case and
had not heard from him since the weekend.
One of Mr. Zimmerman’s former lawyers, Craig A. Sonner, said after the murder
charge was announced that he would use the Stand Your Ground law as a defense if
he were still representing Mr. Zimmerman.
Mr. Sonner said that although he had not seen evidence in the case first hand,
he believed that “when all the evidence arrives in its totality, and all the
circumstances are viewed in their totality, everything will show, I believe,
that George Zimmerman was acting in self-defense.”
As she announced the charge, Ms. Corey, the prosecutor, praised Mr. Martin’s
“sweet parents.” But she stressed that the decision to charge was made based on
the law, not on pressure. “Let me emphasize that we do not prosecute by public
pressure or by petition,” she said. “We prosecute based on the facts of any
given case, as well as the laws of the State of Florida.”
Kovaleski reported from Sanford,
Lizette Alvarez from Jacksonville,
Cooper from New York.
Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting
Washington and Timothy Williams from New York.