The case of The State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman has quickly garnered national attention. On February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin as Martin was walking home, unarmed, from a friend’s house. Zimmerman claimed that the shooting was in self-defense and that Martin had attacked him. The high profile case received media attention all over the country and incited heated debates about controversial issues such as gun control, Florida’s stand-your-ground law, and modern race relations.
Mark O’Mara, president of the Seminole County Bar Association, served as George Zimmerman’s defense attorney. O’Mara claims that this was the perfect case for him because, “the social questions about the case, the racism questions, the way this case is being viewed, even the stand-your-ground law itself, it just met on literally all eight cylinders.” Despite the emotional and racial tensions related to the case, O’Mara approached the trial in a clinical and rational manner all the way his closing argument.
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O’Mara began his closing argument in a somewhat unusual but necessary manner. Because of the highly emotional aspects of the case, O’Mara told the Jury to “consider the evidence over assumptions.” He also explained and stressed the concepts of reasonable doubt and the burden of proof. Normally these are already explained to the Jurors before the trial but, due to their relevance to the case, O’Mara reiterated them and even went as far as providing graphics to insure that the Jury fully understood them.
His typical calm and explanatory tone was juxtaposed with some intermittent outbursts throughout the closing argument. These included O’Mara raising his voice to the point of almost yelling in the courtroom to mock one of the prosecutor’s fiery speaking style that he had used earlier in the trial and also bringing out a large concrete slab to highlight that, in O’Mara’s opinion, Trayvon Martin was not entirely defenseless.
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Although he presented most of his evidence in a calculated and logical style, O’Mara still implicitly brought emotion into the case on behalf of Zimmerman. This was obviously one of the more difficult tasks for O’Mara as Zimmerman, regardless of his motivation, did indeed fatally shoot Trayvon Martin. O’Mara accomplished this by focusing on the importance of reasonable doubt and the burden of proof in the American Justice System. Early in his closing argument, O’Mara quoted founding father John Adams and said, “it’s more important that the innocent be protected than the guilty be punished.” He related the quote to Zimmerman’s trial by claiming that, if the innocent isn’t protected by the State’s burden of proof, the Justice System has failed to provide us with its intended security. O’Mara also furthered his point that this was a pivotal case for the burden of proof by the telling the Jury that they “are living the Constitution.”
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O’Mara’s calm demeanor actually caused him to draw in criticism from Zimmerman’s own father, who claimed that O’Mara wasn’t defending Zimmerman’s innocence forcefully enough. O’Mara explained that he was doing that purposefully because, “while [he] could have gone up to the top of the stairs and screamed [Zimmerman’s] innocence at the top of [his] lungs, [he] would have only incensed those very people who [he] really wanted to do some reaching out to.” Though he maintained a collected composure throughout almost the entire closing argument, O’Mara did vehemently defend Zimmerman’s absolute innocence. He stated that Zimmerman “isn’t guilty of anything but protecting his own life.” O’Mara also told the Jury that, if the sentencing options were changed from ‘guilty’, ‘and ‘not guilty’ to include ‘completely innocent’ as a third option, Zimmerman would fall into the ‘completely innocent’ category.
O’Mara’s clothing and behavior weren’t very indicative of such a high profile trial. He was dressed in a plain black suit with a paisley tie and spoke with a barely noticeable accent that reflected his birthplace of Queens, New York. He also, admittedly, conducted himself in a much more laidback way than the prosecutors, which he later called out for being aggressive. O’Mara spoke and acted in almost a fatherly manner, carefully explaining each of his points to the Jurors. Even during his most intense outbursts, such as when he highlighted inconsistencies in some of the State’s witnesses’ testimonies, O’Mara maintained that he wasn’t angry but disappointed with the situation.
At around 10 PM on July 13th, the Jury for the case of The State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman announced that they had found Zimmerman not guilty of the charge of second-degree murder. This outcome is obviously very favorable for attorney Mark O’Mara and his partners; especially considering that a large portion of America and the media already considered Zimmerman to be guilty before the trial even began. This victory is due in large part to O’Mara’s cool-and-collected demeanor and his focus on reasonable doubt. Still, O’Mara claims that there are no true winners in this case because “[Zimmerman’s] life will never be the same.”
By Owen Dirkse, Summer Intern