OTR Interviews

Guilty until proven innocent? How 'racist' George Zimmerman was made to fit into the mainstream media's race narrative

Did the national media demonize George Zimmerman to fit a convenient - and profitable - race narrative?

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," July 16, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight: Sharp knives are out for the media!

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK O'MARA, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You guys, the media -- he was like a patient in an operating table where mad scientists were committing experiments on him and he had no anesthesia!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: George Zimmerman never would have been arrested if it wasn't the outcry from black people, brown people, white people, Republicans, Democrats, Christians and Muslims in this nation who demanded his arrest!

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Zimmerman never would have been arrested if it weren't for the outcry! What does that tell you? It means that there wasn't a reason to arrest him, that the only reason he was is because a bunch of people started bellyaching and intimidated law enforcement! They had to fire a police chief in order to -- and then Angela Corey starts running around, hiding evidence and so forth!

SEAN HANNITY, HOST "HANNITY": The nation is focused on your case. Why do you think that is, and what do you make of it? And what does it mean to you?

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, FORMER MURDER DEFENDANT: It's surreal. I don't like that they rush to judgment the way they have.

O'MARA: He didn't know why he was turned into this monster, but quite honestly, you guys had a lot to do with it. You just did.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, JR., GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S BROTHER: The race profiteers, they have a business model. They have a script. I mean, this was a profitable event for them. And they spun George's race as a white man. And then later, when he became Hispanic, the media spun his race into white Hispanic.

O'MARA: You took a story that was fed to you, and you ran with it, and you ran right over him!

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: Even after the verdict, there was not even the decency to acknowledge that this man, Mr. Zimmerman, was wrong in assuming that Trayvon Martin was doing anything but abiding by the law and minding his own business!

DON WEST, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Nothing, of course, like this, with the media attention, nothing that had the case tried over and over and over again in the media, nothing where the media was accused of such irresponsible early on, frankly, being swept along with this narrative that's simply been shown not to be true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: What else did George Zimmerman's lawyers have to say about the media coverage? Mark O'Mara and Don West join us. Good evening, gentlemen.

O'MARA: Good evening. How are you doing?

VAN SUSTEREN: I think it's only fair, because we've certainly had at it with all the lawyers, the judge, and everybody else at trial. So I want to let you have a chance to have at it. Let we start with you, Mark. Tell me what you think about the media coverage.

O'MARA: Well, again, we talked about, in the beginning, it was just outrageous because what they did was buy into the media, or the perspective given by the Trayvon Martin attorneys, the family, and just ran with it. Unfortunately, they just didn't look at any of the background and ran straightforward, and it really set this case up to be the racial frenzy that it became.

VAN SUSTEREN: Don?

WEST: Well, from the very beginning, George had to prove his innocence, an incredible uphill challenge against almost unspeakable odds. But we did. We did.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is the impact on the actual trial of the media coverage? Forget the noise aspect of it. Was there anything that the media coverage, good, bad and ugly, what you agree with, disagree -- did it actually have an impact on what you think is the actual fairness inside the courtroom of the trial?

O'MARA: I think that inside the courtroom, we didn't have a lot of media bias and media exposure. Certainly, the jurors were kept away from it. There's thousands of analysts who are going to say what they think about it. But I'm actually more OK, once my jury is protected. So I wasn't too worried about that.

All the media that led up to it caused us to have a lot of inquiries of the jury regarding pre-trial publicity. And I still think that they were affected by the media blitz. But hopefully, they put it all aside.

VAN SUSTEREN: I suppose, Don, if there hadn't been the impact of the media or the interest of the media, your jury would not have been sequestered. In general, defense lawyers don't want their jurors sequestered. Well, neither does the judge and the prosecutors, but less so for the defense. Do you agree?

WEST: Oh, sure. Once we got our jury, however, we turned them over, if you will, to the Seminole County sheriff's office, who did a remarkable job protecting them, and that was truly remarkable.

VAN SUSTEREN: Don, what about this NBC lawsuit? They did a pretty bad hack job on some editing. It says -- what the -- what the NBC version was is that your client said, This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black. And what the actual 911 call was is, This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something. It's raining. And he's just walking around looking about. And the dispatcher says, OK, and this guy, is he white, black or Hispanic? Zimmerman then answered, He looks black. All that sort of middle part of the dispatcher was cut out.

What are you going to do about that? You've filed suit.

WEST: Well, I'm going to ask Mark to answer your question because he's directly involved in that litigation himself.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, Mark?

O'MARA: I'm helping out with an attorney in Pennsylvania, Jim Beasley, who's sort of taking the lead on it. And you know, quite honestly, what they did was outrageous. They took an information, cut out the middle part, and I think they did so to sort of cut corners. I think they presumed that George Zimmerman was a racist murderer, so if he was, no harm, no foul.

They were wrong. They sort of were part of the process of all of this turning against George. And thank God he was still able to get a fair trial in light of all that.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I don't know any of the people involved in this. I know NBC did, I think, fire some people as a result of that. My wild guess on this, to both of you, is that it's probably some young person who was not particularly supervised by other people, or someone inexperienced, because it's dubbed -- I mean, I can't even -- you know, even -- we're all competitors, but I really can't imagine that they were trying to sort of stick it to you or to your client. You know, but that's just my guess.

O'MARA: Sure, I guess -- I guess we can give them the benefit of that doubt. It's just that it was so egregious, taking out that 45 seconds had such an impact...

VAN SUSTEREN: Horrible!

O'MARA: ... on the case that you can't sit back and go -- to get on a national program -- it wasn't on a local program. This started national -- that they just have to have better safeguards in place. And I think they just rushed through it, not caring because they figured, again, if he's a racist, you can get away with almost anything.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, my advice to NBC is to make a quick settlement and everybody move on.

All right, let me -- let me move on to something else, gentlemen. there's been a lot of talk about the judge in this case, Judge Debra Nelson, taking heat for her testy exchanges with the lawyers, mostly you, Don. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE DEBRA NELSON, FLORIDA CIRCUIT COURT: And have you made a decision, sir, as to whether or not you want to testify in this case?

WEST: Your honor, I object to that question.

NELSON: OK. Overruled. Have you made a decision as to whether or not you want to testify in the case?

WEST: I object to that question. I think that's...

NELSON: Overruled.

Do you think that you would then know whether or not you want to testify?

WEST: On Mr. Zimmerman's behalf, that...

NELSON: I am asking your client questions. Please, Mr. West.

WEST: I object to the court inquiring of Mr. Zimmerman as to his decision about whether or not to testify at this...

NELSON: Your objection is overruled!

O'MARA: I've been in the courtroom ...

NELSON: And so have I.

O'MARA: ... not being able to prepare or get my witnesses gathered for tomorrow, and I can't do it tonight.

NELSON: I'll see you at 8:00 in the morning.

WEST: I'm not physically able (INAUDIBLE) It's 10:00 o'clock at night. We started this morning. We've had full days every day, weekends, depositions at night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Don, your reaction? I might first add that your job in the courtroom, of course, is not to be chummy or to make friends with the judge, but to represent your client. But -- and I tended to fight with judges. But what in the world was going on there between the two of you? It seemed like to be part of the entire trial.

WEST: Well, I don't know that it's fair to say it was the entire trial. It was situational. Unfortunately, I suppose, there were lots of those situations.

The first one in the clip was when Judge Nelson wanted to ask George Zimmerman whether he was going to testify and what that decision was. And frankly, we weren't done yet. We still had a couple of witnesses to go. And separate and apart from whether she should ever ask that question, I didn't think she should ask it then. He had the absolute...

VAN SUSTEREN: I thought she was absolutely...

WEST: ... right to testify...

VAN SUSTEREN: I thought she was out of line asking you that question before the defense case was over, absolutely out of line, so I agree with you on that.

WEST: And the other clip that you showed was late at night after we had worked a full day before the jury. We had several hours of proffers on critically important evidence, frankly, that had to do with the text messages on Trayvon Martin's phone that addressed his prior experience with fighting. I thought that was critically important evidence. I'm not going to just say OK without putting up a bit of a fight.

VAN SUSTEREN: And of course, the job -- you know, as I know, the job is to represent a client aggressively. Mark, there is pending this issue of sanctions. You made the accusation that the prosecution withheld information and information you believed to be exculpatory that would help your client. The trial is now over. You've won.

Number one is, did they withhold it? Was it what we call a Brady violation? And are you still going to pursue some sort of sanctions?

O'MARA: Well, part of the frustration that Don evidenced throughout the trial was the frustration that we had pretrial. And that was that it was enormously difficult to get discovery from the state attorney's office. Thirty years of practice, I've never filed a motion for sanctions. In this case, I filed six against the same state attorney's office because, yes, they were hiding the ball.

They had information that was on Trayvon Martin's phone. We now know they knew about it in January because a whistle-blower, their IT guy, came in and testified to it. And when we tried to get that information from Mr. De La Rionda, he told the judge very specifically that he never had it, and that's conflicting with the existing evidence. So it was very frustrating.

It took me six months to get a picture of my client's face injuries in the jpeg format. First they gave me a black and white. Then they gave me a pastel color. So yes, they were not playing the way they should have played, and it was enormously frustrating in such a difficult case to begin with.

VAN SUSTEREN: Don, does it make a difference that those text messages that you -- that were withheld from you, later got by a whistle-blower, that the judge said that they weren't admissible in the trial? Does that sort of make it no harm, no foul, or not?

O'MARA: As it turns out, we didn't need them. But you know, what if there would have been a conviction? Then we would have had an issue on appeal, where the court had decided that George Zimmerman's crim lit course two years before was significant and relevant enough to tell the jury, but Trayvon Martin's experience with fighting, knowing about how to ground and pound, knowing that when he was on the bottom, he could do nothing, and knowing that if you hit somebody in the nose, you can win a fight, that the decision that that was not relevant was confounding to me, and frustrating.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Don, I wonder if -- you know, how many prosecutors -- I mean, every night, there's that fight -- you know, every day in the courtroom is that fight whether prosecutors are withholding information. I mean, all the stuff that defendants -- not your client, but just across the country -- I mean, that's so -- I mean, that's such an important piece of -- you know, if your -- if exculpatory information is withheld from a defendant, it is the most -- you know, it's one of the most egregious mistakes, isn't it, or errors.

WEST: Oh, sure, it's across the board. It's not subject to the discovery rules in Florida or any other specific state. It's guaranteed by the Constitution. Exculpatory evidence must be provided by the prosecutor to the defense, without demand, frankly. It's their obligation once they see it to provide it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did either one of you have a conversation with the judge or the lawyers, the prosecutors, afterwards, like, you know, hard fought fight, and you know, now -- you know, thanks for, you know, talking, or whatever, and on your merry way? Any handshaking or not?

(LAUGHTER)

WEST: I -- I didn't shake their hand. And I -- in this case, you know, yes, good game, we'll see you next time. No, not in this case. It would be like shaking the hand after a baseball game of the pitcher who spent nine innings throwing at your head. It was not an honorable prosecution. And I think the comments that we've heard in the last day or so clearly establish that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mark, you agree?

O'MARA: Well, they came on record after a jury decided that my client was not guilty and said that he's a murderer, that he was a coward for not getting on the stand. That is egregious conduct, in my opinion. How dare they denigrate the jury verdict, and by doing that, denigrate the very process that they have sworn to uphold, and then to sit back and say that a constitutional right not to testify evidenced coward behavior -- there were a couple of cowards in the courtroom, and those people decided to move forward with a prosecution based more on politics than it was on facts. But the coward was not my client.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, let me play you what was said last night here "On the Record," Martin family lawyer Jasmine Rand going "On the Record." Now, I took her to task for what she said, but I wonder what you think.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JASMINE RAND, MARTIN FAMILY ATTORNEY: I have a greater duty beyond being an attorney, and that's to be a social engineer. And when the law doesn't get it right, I believe that we have the right to peacefully and morally, conscientiously object to the decision of the jury. That doesn't mean that we believe that it's going to be overturned or that it will, or that we don't respect the decision that those six people made. But there are millions of people out there who don't agree with that decision. So it's not just a legal thing...

VAN SUSTEREN: It's -- you know what the problem is, though?

RAND: It's millions of people...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: That's deeply...

RAND: ... from all over the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, that's deeply disturbing to me as -- as -- on the tape because I happen to be a big believer in jury system, even when I lost the case. But she says that the job is to be a social engineer. Mark, you have a thought about that?

O'MARA: Sure. Give up her J.D. and go get an engineering degree. That's probably the best thing that she can do because we have -- we are bound to an ethical consideration. We are, in effect, the soldiers of the Constitution when we look at a case like this. And we have to instill in the people who we want to believe in our system that they should trust the system, respect it and listen to it.

If we have people social engineering away a not guilty verdict given by a jury after a fair trial -- what she's doing is infecting the system with a virus that's going to come back to burn us all. And she needs to rethink her social engineering, or at least her degree.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Don, I've been sitting on the sidelines watching this. I realize sitting on the sidelines, a lot easier than being in the arena, like both of you have. But I confess that I was surprised the night of the verdict that you didn't express more empathy for the Trayvon Martin family.

You know, I felt like you were still sort of in the -- in the battle mode, and you're talking about all the horrible things that happened to your client and a client who goes through a trial, you know, it is a horrible thing. But where -- am I wrong? Or did you -- I mean, did you -- do you feel like you showed sufficient empathy? And do you have empathy for the Martin family?

O'MARA: Definitely have empathy for the family. They went through the tragedy of a loss of a loved one. And I evidenced that the first week I was involved in the case when Ms. Fulton first said that she wasn't sure why Mr. Zimmerman never apologized. And I reached out to the family through their lawyers and said I want to have a private, confidential communication where my client wants to apologize for having to have done what he did.

That was rebuffed, which is the only reason why I ended up doing it then on record in the bond hearing. And we sort of had to go forward with that. So we have always been very respectful to the Martin family. I wish that their lawyers had been more respectful to my client's constitutional right to a fair trial and not try this case improperly on false facts in the media for a year-and-a-half.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I will say I -- Don, I agree with Mark when he said that -- I was surprised when the statement was made by the prosecution post-verdict about cowardly, not testifying, because that is a rather sacred constitutional right.

I don't know -- why do you think she said that?

WEST: Why do I think the prosecutor said that?

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, why?

WEST: Because they're desperate, grasping at straws, looking for anything to avoid accepting this jury, who was extremely conscientious and deliberative. They looked at all of the evidence -- we had a couple of hundred pieces -- before they deliberated for 16 hours and came up not just with their verdict, but the unquestionably right verdict in this case.

Their comments are a distraction, and it should be viewed as -- maybe I'm being...

O'MARA: Disgraceful?

WEST: ... too flip. It's sour grapes, if nothing else. At a minimum, sour grapes. At the other end of the spectrum, outrageous.

VAN SUSTEREN: Gentlemen, thank you both.

O'MARA: Sure. Thanks very much. Good chatting with you again.

WEST: Thank you.