George Zimmerman's bond hearing is over and his attorney Mark O'Mara got exactly what he wanted: a reasonable bond of $150,000 and a GPS monitoring device for his client. Yet, Friday's hearing was much more than just a bond hearing, it was O'Mara's chance to perform for the public, the media and try to sway opinion of his notorious client. And for that performance, all I can say is kudos and offer a glowing review of his "theatrical" debut.
All the judge needed to know to make his decision was whether Zimmerman was a flight risk or a danger to society and a discussion of his prior criminal history. So why did O'Mara lay into investigator Dale Gilbreath and grill him on the affidavit? Why did Zimmerman's family discuss his good deeds, including mentoring young African-American boys? Why did George Zimmerman himself take the stand to apologize, a move unheard of for a criminal defendant at a bond hearing? Simple; O'Mara is trying to educate the public and change the minds of potential jurors by painting the picture that his client is a good guy and the prosecution is unfairly out to get him.
O'Mara's performance opened with Zimmerman's family testifying about their do-gooder son. His mother, Gladys, testified by phone that her son is "protective of people... no matter their race." She then went on to describe how her son tried to seek justice for a homeless man who was beaten in Sanford and that he mentored two young African-American children in Orlando. His father, Robert, told the court that when confronted his son would "turn the other cheek" and that he was pursuing a degree in criminal justice and hoped to work as a magistrate judge. His wife, Shellie, told the court her husband "is absolutely not a violent person." All three were essentially characters in O'Mara's ace performance of trying to present his client as the exact opposite of the monster he's been painted to be in much of the media.
The key to the performance, though, was O'Mara's battle scene with investigator Dale Gilbreath. He got up and questioned Gilbreath so much about the affidavit that the investigator came off looking like a fool. First, Gilbreath admitted he wasn't aware of any inquiry to Trayvon Martin's father as to whether he could identify the voice heard screaming in the 911 calls as his son's. Gilbreath also admitted that he does not know who started the fight, does not have evidence to prove who started the fight and does not have evidence to contradict Zimmerman's statement that Martin started the fight. He also testified he does not have evidence to contradict Zimmerman's assertion that he turned back around to walk to his car. O'Mara also laid into Gilbreath over the use of "profiling" in the affidavit and the claim that Zimmerman "continued to follow" Martin even after he was told by a dispatcher not to. This claim that he "continued to follow" is key to the case, because it helps the prosecution prove he had an intent to kill, which is grounds for a 2nd degree murder conviction.
While some would say O'Mara showed all his cards in Friday's bond hearing, I think it was a smart strategy because he's basically trying to tell the public not to jump to conclusions here, as most have already done so based off media coverage of the case. The first thing a good defense attorney does is start knocking down the prosecution's case. The reason why it's so important here to question the investigation and the evidence is because if O'Mara thinks he has a good shot at attacking the prosecution's case, he may never even have to apply Stand Your Ground. If O'Mara uses Stand Your Ground as a defense, his client would be forced to testify about why he felt reasonably threatened with bodily harm, and more importantly, he'd be forced to face cross examination. Yet, if O'Mara can convince the jury the prosecution has a weak case without ever applying Stand Your Ground, he can keep his client off the witness stand. His goal was to poke so many holes into the affidavit and the initial investigation that some may now be questioning whether Zimmerman was unfairly charged.
And in the final act of the performance, the star himself took center stage. When George Zimmerman took the stand, most everyone in the courtroom and everyone watching on television was stunned. It's unheard of for a criminal defendant to take the stand in a bond hearing. Yet, this was a carefully calculated move in O'Mara's master plan to try to humanize his client. Zimmerman took the stand and apologized to Martin's family, telling the court he did not know Trayvon was so much younger than him and did not know whether he was armed or not. Now, when the prosecution saw the star defendant take the stand, they were likely chomping at the bit to get at him. Yet, O'Mara was a few steps ahead of them. Zimmerman apologized but did not discuss anything else about the night of the killing. With such limited exposure, the prosecution could not question him on anything beyond what he was testifying about. You can only cross-examine within the scope of direct examination. Yes, they asked why Zimmerman took so long to apologize, but couldn't grill him on anything beyond that. A risky move, but it paid off, because now all the media is talking about out of Friday's hearing is Zimmerman's apology. Was it sincere? I don't know. But a little good PR and publicity can't hurt.
If O'Mara's first performance is any indication of his future defense, this case is shaping up to be quite the show and the prosecution better be prepared.
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