On Friday, April 20, 2012, George Zimmerman, charged with the second-degree murder of seventeen year old Trayvon Martin, appeared in court where Judge Kenneth R. Lester Jr. allowed Zimmerman to temporarily regain his freedom while he awaits his trial, by setting his bond at $150,000. Zimmerman could be out of jail by as early as the middle of next week. To make matters worse for Martin’s family, Zimmerman also decided to make an apology to the victim’s family. However, it was the nature of the bond hearing and Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, which stole the show.
State prosecutors had requested that Zimmerman be kept in jail without bond or that Judge Lester Jr. at least set bond at one million dollars, which according to O’Mara, would be prohibitively expensive for Zimmerman’s family. State prosecutors argued that Zimmerman’s prior history with police—two separate charges of resisting arrest, one of which was with violence—in addition to being named in a domestic violence injunction, was enough to show that he is violent and a threat to the community. Unfortunately for the Martins, Judge Lester Jr. disagreed with prosecutors, dismissing the incidents as merely “run of the mill” and “somewhat mild.” Furthermore, because a ten percent cash payment is typically sufficient in order to secure bond, Zimmerman can be freed with a mere $15,000, a sum which appears to be rather trivial when compared to the magnitude of the charge he is facing.
However, as most will agree, this was not an ordinary bond hearing. O’Mara used this opportunity to humanize Zimmerman by having him take the stand to apologize to the Martin family. Criminal defendants almost never take the stand during a bond hearing, making this an exceptional departure from the norm. During Zimmerman’s apology, Zimmerman said that he “thought [Trayvon Martin] was a little bit younger than [Zimmerman] was, and [that he] did not know if [Martin] was armed or not.” While O’Mara said that the apology was merely a response to the Martin family’s request that they hear from the man that shot their son, the attorneys for the Martins felt differently, saying that the apology was “self-serving,” “disingenuous,” and “insulting.” While the sincerity of Zimmerman’s apology is up for debate, O’Mara’s orchestration of the hearing was ingenious.
Not only was Zimmerman’s apology an orchestrated plan to humanize him, but O’Mara’s grilling of investigator Dale Gilbreath has left many questioning whether Zimmerman was even properly charged. During the hearing O’Mara got Gilbreath to admit that he was not aware of any inquiry into whether Trayvon’s father was able to identify his son as the voice screaming in the 911 calls. Furthermore, Gilbreath also admitted that he does not know who started the altercation, has no evidence to prove who instigated the altercation, nor does he have evidence to contradict Zimmerman’s claim that he turned back and was walking towards his car. All of Gilbreath’s statements will be used to poke holes in the prosecution’s case, and given the prosecution’s onerous burden of persuasion, Friday was a win for O’Mara and his client.
Blogger, Criminal Law Brief