Early Monday morning, George Zimmerman was released from a jail in Sanford, Fla., after posting bail on a $150,000 bond granted by a judge last week. The admitted killer of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is facing charges of second-degree murder, but Zimmerman claims he shot Martin in self-defense. Prosecutors had wanted the court to set bail at $1 million, but a dramatic bail hearing, in which defense lawyer Mark O'Mara made some unconventional moves, might have tipped the scales of justice in Zimmerman's favor. Zimmerman unexpectedly apologized to Martin's parents, while O'Mara launched an aggressive, trial-like interrogation of an investigator with the prosecution, winning plaudits from the legal community. Is Zimmerman's defense team outmaneuvering the prosecution?
Yes. The prosecution was taken by surprise: Prosecutors were "not prepared for what hit them" at the bail hearing, says Nick R. Martin at Talking Points Memo. O'Mara "was allowed to grill Dale Gilbreath, an investigator for the state attorney's office," over a sworn affidavit in which Gilbreath asserted that "Zimmerman confronted Martin" before the shooting occurred. Gilbreath admitted that he did not know exactly what happened between Zimmerman and Martin, which allowed O'Mara to "paint the case against Zimmerman as one that was full of holes," and to persuade the judge "to order him free on bond as he awaits trial."
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And O'Mara now has a clear advantage: O'Mara can use Gilbreath's statements "at a later date to either contradict other testimony" or determine "how to question other witnesses," says Mike Schneider of the Associated Press. O'Mara essentially used the bail hearing as a "discovery device" to glean information from the prosecution that can benefit Zimmerman. And Gilbreath was forced to make very specific statements that will likely strengthen the defense's case: Most damagingly, Gilbreath "testified that he does not know whether Martin or Zimmerman threw the first punch, and that there is no evidence to disprove Zimmerman's contention he was walking back to his vehicle when confronted by Martin."
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But Zimmerman also made a huge mistake: "There's a lot we still don't know about what happened" that night, but "we know a little bit more" thanks to a "damaging admission" from Zimmerman, says Timothy Noah at The New Republic. In apologizing to Martin's parents, Zimmerman said he didn't know if Martin "was armed or not." If Zimmerman thought Martin was armed, he might have some legal justification for shooting Martin under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which gives gun owners great leeway to use deadly force for self-protection. But he said he "didn't know," and yet he "fired the gun anyway." Even in Florida, "I can't imagine citizens have license to shoot people merely on the off chance that they might possibly have guns."
"I did not know if he was armed or not"