By Tamara Lush
SANFORD, Fla. — The neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Trayvon Martin had been out of touch and, his ex-lawyer says, “a little bit over the edge” before his arrest on a second-degree murder charge.
For George Zimmerman, who turned himself in Wednesday for the Feb. 26 shooting of the unarmed black teen, experts offered this advice: Stop talking.
“My advice to the client would be, ‘Save it for the trial. It can’t help you,” said Roy Kahn, a Miami defense attorney.
The 28-year-old Sanford man was in custody in Florida after a puzzling disappearance that had his lawyers expressing concern for his health and announcing they couldn’t represent him anymore. Zimmerman had called special prosecutor Angela Corey, his former lawyers said, had an off-the-record chat with a Fox News Channel host and put up a website asking supporters for money.
“It would not be in a client’s best interest to give any statement before it’s his time to testify at trial,” Kahn said. “For him to give a statement, since he already has given an interview to the police, any additional statement at the State Attorney’s Office would just create the possibility of him creating conflict with his previous statements.”
Zimmerman’s new attorney, Mark O’Mara, said after his client’s arrest Wednesday that Zimmerman “is very concerned about the charges, but he is OK.”
“I’m not concerned about his mental well-being,” O’Mara said.
On Tuesday, Zimmerman’s former lawyers Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig portrayed Zimmerman as erratic, said he hadn’t returned their calls and texts and was buckling under the pressure that has built in the month since the shooting.
Jack Schafer, a professor at Western Illinois University and a former FBI behavioral analyst, said Zimmerman’s behavior shouldn’t cause undue concern. After all, Schafer said, he wasn’t charged with any crime and was free to go wherever he wanted after he spoke to authorities following the shooting.
“If I were him, I’d go somewhere in hiding,” said Schafer. “His life is at risk, not by jurisprudence, but by angry people who are rushing to judgment.”
Leslie Garfield, a Pace University law professor in New York, said Zimmerman’s behavior over the last 48 hours should not affect his prosecution.
“Whatever else goes on behind the scenes before charges aren’t really a factor,” she said. “All that should matter is what his intentions were at the time of the shooting.”
Zimmerman showed the strain in his own words on his website, bearing the American flag.
“As a result of the incident and subsequent media coverage, I have been forced to leave my home, my school, my employer, my family and ultimately, my entire life,” he wrote. “This website’s sole purpose is to ensure my supporters they are receiving my full attention without any intermediaries.”
Kahn said anything Zimmerman says now, to Corey or the public, could be taken the wrong way.
“The only thing he can do is make the case worse for himself if he says something stupid,” he said. “It may not be incriminating, but if it’s stupid, even if it’s an insignificant fact that shows it’s something he lied about, that’s enough for them to say, ‘Well, he’s lying.’”
“You’re better off not saying anything at this point in the game.”
According to his ex-defense attorney, Zimmerman will plead not guilty to murder in the shooting.