The lawyer representing George Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, defended his decision to delay the release of documents in the case, arguing that the safety of witnesses needs to be protected.
In a posting on his new website, attorney Mark O’Mara argued that he is delaying requesting some court documents until he can file motions that prevent the release of the names of any witnesses. Under Florida rules, documents in a criminal case become a public record 15 days after they have been requested by a defense attorney.
“We are concerned about the release of witness information to the general public, solely due to safety concerns,” O’Mara argues in his post, dated Sunday. “There has been a lot of animosity and emotions caused by incomplete and premature disclosure of information. Because those emotions still run so high, we want to do everything we can to protect the sanctity of the process and the safety of the witnesses. No good purpose will be served by a media frenzy directed at witnesses.”
Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester, who is presiding on the case, has ordered court documents made public, but the names of witnesses will be redacted until “further order of the court.” The judicial order was posted on the court website on Monday.
Media organizations, including Tribune Co. (which owns the Los Angeles Times) and a coalition of newspapers, including the Miami Herald, and local television stations, have filed motions to make all documents public. The documents were closed at an earlier hearing where the media outlets had no representation. At the time, O’Mara cited the need to protect witnesses, and the office of special prosecutor Angela B. Corey did not dissent.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, is free on a $150,000 bond. He has admitted shooting the unarmed Martin on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., but has argued he acted in self-defense and was released without being charged by Sanford police.
The shooting prompted a flurry of publicity and national demonstrations that raised thorny questions about race and guns. Florida Gov. Rick Scott eventually appointed Corey as the special prosecutor in the case, and she charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder about six weeks after the shooting.
O’Mara has also established a new website, as well as Facebook and Twitter accounts to provide statements and details about the highly charged case. In one post, O’Mara recognized that it is “unusual for a legal defense to maintain a social media presence on behalf of a defendant, but we also acknowledge that this is a very unusual case.”
In his posts, O’Mara explained that social media, in particular, have grown in importance.
“It is now a critical part of presidential politics, it has been part of revolutions in the Middle East, and it is going to be an unavoidable part of high-profile legal cases, just as traditional media has been and continues to be,” according to a Saturday post. “We feel it would be irresponsible to ignore the robust online conversation, and we feel equally as strong about establishing a professional, responsible, and ethical approach to new media.”
Zimmerman had created a website to raise funds for himself, but O’Mara shut that down last week. In court last week, O’Mara said that Zimmerman had raised $200,000 on his old website and that a tiny portion, about $5,000, had been used for the bail bond.