Those events sparked protests in Sanford and around the country, with thousands demanding that Zimmerman be prosecuted. Gov. Rick Scott appointed State Attorney Angela B. Corey from the nearby Jacksonville district to re-examine the case.
Forty-four days after Martin’s death, Corey charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder and had him arrested. For the past year, Zimmerman has been free on $1 million bond and living in seclusion. His defense is being paid by private contributions through a website O’Mara set up.
Outside attorneys say the challenge for O’Mara and his colleagues will be to divorce the case’s facts from the larger context of what the shooting symbolizes to some communities.
“You have to take away the controversial stuff and make it just about what Zimmerman thought, that he was scared and feared for his life,” Hill said.
If his pre-trial statements are any indication, that’s exactly what O’Mara will do. O’Mara earlier decided not to invoke a “stand your ground” hearing in which a judge alone would decide whether to dismiss the case or allow it to proceed to trial.
“This case, in my opinion and in my view of the facts, is a clear, straightforward self-defense case based upon the forensic evidence,” O’Mara said. “With that as a premise, this case has taken on a significance well beyond the facts.”
Nelson has already ruled that defense attorneys won’t be able to mention Martin’s past marijuana use, suspension from school and past fighting during opening statements, although Nelson left open the possibility that the defense could try again later during the trial if it could show relevance. Such a situation could arise if prosecutors attempt to portray Martin as an angelic kid.
“The trial itself is like a symphony,” O’Mara said in a recent interview. “You play with those other people around you in the proper way to present the evidence. If they go down a certain path, then we may have to go down a certain path.”
Jurors will want to hear from Zimmerman, but his attorneys should wait to see how their case unfolds before putting him on the stand, McClean said. It would be helpful for Zimmerman to get on the witness stand to recount his state of mind, Hill said.
“I can’t see how he doesn’t,” Hill said. “He’s the only one who can say ‘I was scared for my life and here’s what happened.’”
Another crucial witness will be a Miami-area female friend of Martin’s who was talking to the teen by cellphone as he was walking through the Retreat at Twin Lakes followed by Zimmerman. She says Martin told her during that conversation that someone was following him and that she also heard a brief exchange between him and someone before the phone was cut off. Martin was shot shortly afterward. But O’Mara already has called into question her credibility, accusing her of lying about missing Martin’s funeral because she was in the hospital.
O’Mara said he doubts he will find six jurors and four alternates who haven’t heard about the case but his goal is to find jurors who haven’t formed opinions. The judge ruled that potential jurors’ identities will stay anonymous in an effort to protect them from harassment and public pressure during the trial. She rejected a defense request to sequester the jury candidates during jury selection.
The defense will have a better chance with the jury if its members are older, more conservative citizens who believe in the right to bear arms, said both Hill and McCLean.
“If there are African-Americans on the jury, they are going to sympathize with Trayvon Martin more,” McClean said.
Prosecutors have refused to comment about the case outside the courtroom, but lead prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda indicated at a recent hearing he was well aware of the pressures the case’s high profile is putting on all parties involved. Reporters from national media groups are attending the trial, and areas outside the courthouse have been designated for expected protests.
“We want to make sure this trial is tried in a courtroom and not outside a courtroom,” de la Rionda said.