Central Florida criminal defense lawyers say it was a mistake for George Zimmerman to go on national television last night and do an hour-long interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, discussing what happened the night he killed Trayvon Martin.
“I think George Zimmerman needs to stop talking,” said David Faulkner, a former FBI agent and Winter Park criminal defense attorney.
Special Prosecutor Angela Corey during the noon-hour filed formal notice that she intends to add the interview to the state’s case.
Zimmerman deviated at least twice from his previous versions of what happened the night he shot Trayvon. He told Hannity he walked in Trayvon’s direction because he needed to find a house number to help police find him, but in recorded interviews with Sanford police, he said it was because he had forgotten the street’s name, something detectives challenged him on.
Also, Zimmerman told Hannity that Trayvon “skipped” away from him and did not run in fear after they first spotted each other a minute or two before their fatal face-to-face confrontation.
Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Neighborhood Watch volunteer, shot Trayvon, Feb. 26. The defendant told police that he was acting in self-defense after the Miami Gardens 17-year-old attacked him.
He was not arrested for more than a month, but the special prosecutor charged him with second-degree murder April 11. He is currently free on $1 million bond.
“I don’t think the interview changes anyone’s mind. It just adds more statements that they’re going to have to defend at trial,” said Faulkner.
Zimmerman again apologized to Trayvon’s family but also told Hannity that what happened that night “was all God’s plan.”
Zimmerman should never have brought up God, Faulkner said, and he should stop apologizing.
“He needs to stick with the same theme: ‘I was attacked. This man was beating my head into the pavement.’ It’s got nothing to do with God,” Faulkner said. “It’s got to do with living another day.”
Donna Goerner, a Longwood attorney and former assistant state attorney in Sanford, said the whole idea of putting Zimmerman on national television was “crazy”.
Why? Explained Lyle Mazin, an Orlando defense lawyer, a criminal defendant has “unequivocal advantages” over the state: the right to remain silent, and to have an attorney to become his voice. The Hannity interview, Mazin said, was “a fundamental failure of both of them.”
“The more times a person tells a story, even if telling the absolute truth, the more inconsistence will emerge,” said Mazin, who has been critical of the state’s case. “It’s the human condition of story telling.”
Defense attorneyMark O’Marahas repeatedly complained that too much media attention will make it very difficult for Zimmerman to get a fair trial. Now, he’s contributing to the coverage.
“It’s really baffling what he thought he’d gain from it,” said Richard Hornsby, an Orlando defense lawyer, who added, “I really question who’s in charge of the defense strategy, whether it’s Zimmerman or O’Mara.”
The odd media relations continued Thursday. After rumors Zimmerman would appear on “The View”by phone, host Barbara Walters said he had called, but “If you could not do the interview yesterday, I don’t think we should do a quick one today.”
According to an ABC News spokesman, Walters had trekked to Central Florida Wednesday hoping for an interview but “walked away” after Zimmerman “made a request that we could not, and could never, agree to.” The New York Post has reported Zimmerman requested a lengthy hotel stay.
Zimmerman called Sanford police Feb. 26, saying he saw a suspicious person in his neighborhood. He got out of his truck and when the dispatcher asked if he was following Trayvon, Zimmerman said yes.
“We don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher said.
Goerner said Zimmerman’s statement about “God’s plan” probably did not come across the way he intended. She had a message for him:
“From my perspective, God sent you a messenger to stay in your truck, and you didn’t listen.”
She, too, advised him to stop talking.
Orlando defense attorney Russ McLatchey stopped short of calling the interview a mistake.
“I’m sure the motivation for this is to present Mr. Zimmerman as a thoughtful and reasonable human being and to try to convince as many people as possible that what he did that night was legally justified,” McLatchey said. “Having said that, I don’t like it.”
“Normally defense attorneys go way out of their way to get their clients to remain silent,” he said. “This guy has not only given his story to law enforcement, but he’s given it to the nation.”
That may create problems for Zimmerman at his trial, should he testify and details of what he tells jurors fail to square up with what he told police and Hannity.