Publicity usually complicates criminal cases. Judges often struggle to keep their courtrooms under control in such cases, which can be under constant pressure from the media, and, in the wake of several widely followed trials in the past, members of both the prosecution and defense have written books about their experiences with such cases. The potential for profiting from a crime is always there, but it’s especially hard to picture public opinion turning in favor of George Zimmerman after he started sending out signed thank you cards to people who donated to his defense fund.
Zimmerman will stand trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager he claims to have shot in self-defense after ignoring a 911 dispatcher’s request to stand down. For weeks, Martin’s death made national headlines, a phenomenon that will likley grow larger after the beginning of Zimmerman’s trial, which is scheduled for June 2013. Along with second-degree murder charges, Zimmerman now faces the problem of not having any money to pay his lawyers, according to a post on his website.
Sympathizers say Zimmerman is doing the right thing by sending thank you cards to his financial well wishers, while critics claim he’s trying to capitalize on his fame, which they say was earned at the cost of a teenager’s life -- to reap monetary benefit. The opinions that really matter, though, are the ones of the people who will decide his fate.
The defendant’s latest actions aren’t quite on the same level as O.J. Simpson’s infamous “If I Did It” book that detailed how he would have murdered his wife and Ron Goldman, but Zimmerman judge Debra Nelson is one person he doesn’t want to annoy. She was appointed in August 2012, days after Zimmerman’s attorneys requested a new judge. Attorneys took to the media to call that a big mistake.
“You don’t mess around with her,” Florida attorney Isadore Hyde Jr. told the Orlando Sentinel. “I think her sense of justice and civility is such that she’s going to make sure that this place, Seminole County, is not Mogadishu.”
Jose Baez, who successfully led Casey Anthony’s defense team in Florida, agreed, according to the Miami Herald.
“I don’t think they did themselves any favors,” Baez said. “She has a reputation of being more pro-prosecution than the previous judge. We have an expression: ‘The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.’”
This is not the first time Zimmerman has been questioned before his trial, and Fox News was forced to deny rumors that host Sean Hannity would pay Zimmerman’s defense fund in exchange for an interview. Zimmerman’s signed thank you cards would appear to be proof of his lack of money for legal resources.
What may be impossible to determine until after the trial is the effect of Zimmerman’s thank you notes on the jury, which has yet to be selected. The amount of media attention on the case, especially in the state where Zimmerman’s guilt will be determined, will make it incredibly difficult for attorneys to find jurors who have not already made up their minds. The Orlando Sentinel reported that the trial is expected to take three weeks, less time than the jury selection will likely take.