SANFORD, Fla. — A tall, lanky red-headed lawyer named Mark O’Mara appeared in court here 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.
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 nationwide protest.
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 Zimmerman’s first moment in court, and he looked wide-eyed and grim in a one-piece blue-gray prison uniform. 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, Zimmerman, who was charged with second-degree murder Wednesday, is being held in protective custody. A conviction could result in a prison term of 25 years to life.
After seeing his client Thursday, O’Mara said in an interview that Zimmerman was distraught.
“He is stressed and tired after long weeks of not being able to go out in public,” 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, O’Mara said that he was not charging Zimmerman and that he hoped to secure a low bond.
Zimmerman and his family have maintained that he was trailing Martin because the young man appeared suspicious. Martin then disappeared from view, only to re-emerge, confront him and assault him, they say. In the fight, they contend, he shot Martin in self-defense. Florida’s expansive self-defense law, Stand Your Ground, was cited initially as a reason why no charges were brought.
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 Zimmerman’s defense.