The attorney for George Zimmerman, Mark O'Mara, speaks to reporters following his client's first court appearance since being charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
When George Zimmerman made his initial court appearance on Thursday charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, he had a new lawyer at his side: Mark O’Mara, described by a longtime friend as a “fearless” lawyer and a “renaissance man.”
The central Florida defense attorney and former prosecutor has nearly 30 years of experience under his belt, representing clients in criminal cases ranging from drunk driving to the death penalty. He also has clocked time in front of the television cameras, serving as a legal analyst for local station WKMG Channel 6, where he commented on high-profile cases, including the Casey Anthony case and even the Martin one – before he was hired to represent Zimmerman.
“He’s a brilliant lawyer,” O’Mara’s longtime friend and civil attorney Joseph Flood told msnbc.com, as well as a “renaissance man” who loves the arts and the Orlando Magic, rides a Harley and is very family-oriented. “I think he’ll be able to manage both the criminal prosecution side, which is going to be a big task, but also just as importantly he’ll be able to manage the media side of it.
“He will come up with the best defense that Mr. Zimmerman is entitled to get.”
From 1982-1984, O’Mara was an assistant state attorney in the Seminole County State Attorney's Office after graduating from Florida State University College of Law, Tallahassee. He has been an active member of the Central Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, according to a former president of the group, Melissa Vickers.
“He’s very well respected. … He’s a great trial attorney,” she told msnbc.com. “They’re in very good hands.”
Mark O'Mara, the new attorney for George Zimmerman, tells TODAY's Carl Quintanilla he was surprised his client was charged with second degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Flood said O’Mara has handled numerous first-degree murder cases. Questions have been raised about whether he would use the "Stand Your Ground" defense for his new client -- a neighborhood watch volunteer accused of fatally shooting unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in a gated community on Feb. 26.
Under the “Stand Your Ground” law, a citizen doesn’t have to retreat before using deadly force against an attacker.
When asked by reporters after Thursday's hearing how many "Stand Your Ground" cases he has handled, O'Mara said: “Self-defense cases, which is really what you’re speaking of, a number of them. It shows up in a lot of personal crimes."
"I have not had one to a jury since the 'Stand Your Ground' statute, but I’ve had a couple that have utilized that as … sort of an impact on it,” he added.
One local high-profile case he handled was that of radio personality Shannon Burke, who shot his wife’s dog in a fit of anger. The bullet also grazed his wife’s head. Flood said O’Mara managed to get a nominal sentence for Burke, who received six months after pleading guilty to animal cruelty and opening fire in a building.
“He’s fearless. I mean, he doesn’t mind taking on those kinds of cases … cases that have media scrutiny where people are looking over your shoulder and every word that you say is being posted on YouTube … every single thing you do is being called into question by 17 supposed experts,” said Flood.
“He believes in the process enough that he thinks they deserve a defense, too,” he said of high-profile defendants like Zimmerman, who has become a lightning rod in the debate over race relations. “The character that I admire in him about that is his willingness to put his skills on the line when not just a client and maybe a judge are watching, but when the whole city and, in this case, the whole world is watching.”
In mid-March, long before he took on Zimmerman as a client, O’Mara, 56, said on WKMG that Zimmerman’s shooting of the 17-year-old teen in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. – which he has claimed was in self-defense – could be legally justified under the “Stand Your Ground” law.
"People call it the license-to-murder statute because it doesn't require actions to avoid the confrontation," said O'Mara. "If you can present evidence or at least your own testimony that (you) felt in fear that he was going to commit great bodily injury or death, that is what kicks in the statutory protection that you're allowed to respond with deadly force."
The “Stand Your Ground” law also can let a judge, in an evidentiary hearing before a jury trial, determine that a defendant can’t be prosecuted due to the self-defense argument.
Martin's mom: Killing was an 'accident'
On Tuesday night, after Zimmerman’s former attorneys said they were no longer representing him, O’Mara said on WKMG that he was “surprised that two attorneys who were no longer counsel talked for an hour about a case that they’re no longer involved in.
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
Mark O'Mara, addresses reporters outside his offices in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday, April 11, 2012.
“I think that was a little problematic. You’re not supposed to talk about a client’s case, for the most part at all, and yet they answered dozens of questions,” he said in remarks reported by the Orlando Sentinel.
When asked by an anchor if that could be detrimental to the case put forward by Zimmerman’s eventual lawyer, he responded: “Very potentially. If George Zimmerman came to me tomorrow and said, ‘I want you to represent me,’ I would look at the press conference and say, ‘Mr. Uhrig identified a potential defense. He outlined the facts of what happened, and he cemented what George Zimmerman can now say.’ And that’s problematic if other evidence comes out that conflicts with it.”
Second-degree murder charge surprises legal experts
O’Mara, a former president of the Seminole County Bar Association, said Zimmerman’s family contacted him about representing him and then he spoke with his new client, according to cfnews13.com.
Flood said he spoke with O’Mara on Wednesday while he was deciding whether to take the case. Flood said he thought the case was a good fit.
“I told him I think he should take the case, that I thought he’d be the perfect lawyer for it,” he said.
On Rock Center with Brian Williams on Wednesday night, O’Mara said: ‘Certainly self-defense seems to have presented itself as part of the one facet of the defense, and yes, the hold your ground statute, which sort of … authorizes or codifies the standard of self-defense in Florida is going to be one of the things that we’re going to look into.”
“We have to look at what the statute says that is presently the law in Florida, it may be up for review because of this case,” he said. “But presently, that statute basically says if a person is in reasonable fear of … great bodily injury or death they can react to it. We need to see what the facts say to support which way it happened.”
Trayvon Martin's parents and George Zimmerman's newly-hired attorney speak to Brian Williams after Florida Special Prosecutor Angela Corey announced that charges had been filed in the case.
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