Now it is time for me to second-guess George Zimmerman’s defense attorney.
Was it a smart move for Zimmerman’s attorney to have put his client on the stand?
Knowing how it turned out, you might think it was good strategy. Remember, it was a bond hearing. Prior to the hearing, Zimmerman had no bond. He was charged with second-degree murder, with the possibility of life imprisonment. Usually in Florida, this is a no bail situation. So, there was a good chance Zimmerman would remain in custody for the time being unless something dramatic happened. And, at the end of the hearing, the judge did in fact grant Zimmerman a bond.
So Zimmerman’s defense attorney, Mark O’Mara, did a great job, right?
But did putting Zimmerman on the stand have anything to do with the judge’s ruling?
My reading of the judge’s decision to set a bond was that it was based on a few factors: (1) he felt that the facts of the case did not rise to second degree murder; (2) Zimmerman had no significant criminal background and there is not a significant likelihood that he will commit another violent offense while on bond; and (3) he was not a flight risk; particularly since he will be placed on home confinement as part of his bond.
Clearly, point (1) was the key. The photograph of Zimmerman’s bloody head, plus the lack of strong evidence to show that Zimmerman intended to hurt Martin when he exited his vehicle, tend to indicate that this case will either resolve on a lesser charge such as manslaughter or reckless conduct or that Zimmerman will be found not guilty under Florida’s “stand your ground” statute.
But, did the statement help? Unlikely, since the judge did not mention it in his ruling.
Did the statement hurt? Yes. Zimmerman has now stated that he is “sorry” that Martin died. This admission can be read two ways and both of them are harmful to his defense: (1) he said that he is sorry which can be interpreted as an admission of fault; or (2) he made a limited and narrow “apology” for self-serving reasons but really is not apologetic about his actions and his refusal to accept blame is evidence that he is a sociopath.
Furthermore, his admission that he did not know if Martin was carrying a weapon at the time undercuts his defense of self-defense, which requires a reasonable believe that he was in jeopardy of death or great bodily harm. As I said yesterday, his attorneys should breathe a sigh of relief that the prosecution didn’t ask any questions about that.
Worse, during cross-examination he provided answers about previous statements, which, if contradicted by police officers, can be used at trial as impeachment.
As I have indicated in my last blog post, it could have been a lot worse had the prosecutors done a better job of cross-examination.
The only positive (for the defense) that I see to come out of this is that by showing some empathy for the Martin family, Zimmerman may have helped himself in the court of public opinion, with potential jurors, and maybe with the Martin family. However, my guess is that while his semi-apology will help with a certain percentage of the population, it will hurt with the majority.
So ultimately, I see the decision to put Zimmerman on the stand as a big mistake: the defense took a big gamble for virtually no gain. Just because they did not get burned does not make it a better decision. Of course, it is easy for me to say; I am not the one sitting in shackles and facing being in jail for the next 12-24 months waiting for trial.
Putting Zimmerman on the stand was a reckless decision; and that is not the type of decision-making that is acceptable for an attorney when defending a client against a possible life sentence.