“We need to calm this down,” Zimmerman’s defense lawyer, Mark O’Mara, said a short while later, his forehead wrinkled in the sun. “We now have a process in place. We have to let it work.”
By the time Zimmerman made his first, brief court appearance Thursday — the parking lot outside full of TV trucks, the cloudy Florida sky buzzing with news helicopters, the town tense with a few white supremacists walking around palm-lined streets — it seemed clear that Corey, 57, and O’Mara, 56, were trying to ratchet down tensions in a potentially explosive case.
At one point Thursday, a reporter asked O’Mara whether he would use a comment made by Martin’s mother to his advantage; Sybrina Fulton told NBC’s “Today” that her son’s killing was “an accident,” words she later clarified were not intended to absolve Zimmerman. O’Mara shook his head.
“We are not going to use words against the mother of a deceased child,” O’Mara said. “We’re not going to play that.”
Corey declined any media interviews Thursday.
“I think both understand they have a job to do, and it doesn’t matter if there are a billion people watching or one,” said Wayne Wooten, an assistant state attorney who knows both Corey and O’Mara and described them as tough, experienced professionals who are comfortable in the media spotlight but not enamored of it. “People will come away thinking that this case was well-lawyered.”
O’Mara took over Zimmerman’s defense Tuesday after Zimmerman’s initial attorneys, Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner, held a bizarre news conference that was a glimpse of what might have been: Flailing his arms about, Uhrig ridiculed Martin’s defenders, cast Zimmerman as mentally unstable, and then said he and Sonner not only had lost contact with Zimmerman but had never once met him in person.
On Wednesday, people close to Zimmerman contacted one of the state’s best-known defense attorneys, Mark NeJame, who has represented Tiger Woods, among other high-profile defendants. NeJame said that he declined to take the case for personal reasons and recommended O’Mara.
“One reason I am so impressed with O’Mara is that he’s not insensitive,” said NeJame, who was granted permission by Zimmerman to discuss the selection of O’Mara. “He’s going to be a total advocate for his client. But that does not mean has to give up compassion for the other side.”
O’Mara is decidedly understated. He runs and bikes, has two German shepherds and works out of a shaded, bungalow-style house. He has worked as a criminal defense attorney in central Florida for more than two decades, handling cases from murder to assault and drug possession, among others.