If you're George Zimmerman, looking to other acquittals in high-profile murder cases is probably not comforting: Casey Anthony remains ostracized; O.J. Simpson is in prison. A free man after a "not guilty" verdict in the killing of Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman has greater ambitions. "He wanted to be a cop for a while, but he's talked about going to law school," Zimmerman's attorney told Reuters. According to a friend, "He sees it as a potential path forward to help other people like himself."
But a career in law is a long way off: Zimmerman, who worked as an insurance investigator before being charged with second-degree murder, was kicked out of school one credit shy of an associate's degree in criminal justice. And even before returning to education, Zimmerman has a lot to handle, including — but not limited to — a potential civil lawsuit, the distant possibility of civil-rights charges, and a torrent of media attention that's shown no signs of calming.
First things first: The pistol Zimmerman used to shoot and kill Martin will be returned to him and, according to his lawyer Mark O'Mara, there's "even more reason" for Zimmerman to carry it now. "There are a lot of people out there who actually hate him, though they shouldn't," he said.
"He's a free man in the eyes of the court, but he's gonna be looking around his shoulder for the rest of his life," added Zimmerman's brother Robert. "There are people that would want to take the law into their own hands as they perceive it, or you know, be vigilantes in some sense, they think justice was not served, they won't respect the verdict no matter how it was reached and they will always present a threat to George and to his family."
The First Interview
Zimmerman's brother, along with his team of attorneys, began making the media rounds immediately after the verdict, with Robert's many appearances advertised on his personal Twitter account. But the real "get" for the networks will be Zimmerman himself. If and when he decides to break his post-trial silence, every channel will be clamoring for the exclusive, so he'll likely have his pick, be it Barbara Walters, Anderson Cooper, or anyone in between. The best bet is Sean Hannity, a sympathetic ally who landed the first interview with Zimmerman after his arrest last year. After Saturday night's verdict, Fox News replayed the appearance in full, as good a sales pitch as any.
Should Zimmerman want to tell his story only on his own terms, there's always the chance of a tell-all — a still-anonymous juror from the trial has already signed with an agent and is shopping a book.
The Department of Justice has resumed its investigation into Zimmerman's case and could bring charges on civil-rights grounds, in which prosecutors would have to argue that Martin was killed primarily because of his race. But legal experts describe the chances as slim.
"[O]utrage is not a legal strategy, and catharsis is not something the justice system is especially well-equipped to provide," said a Bloomberg View editorial today. "Pursuing a federal case would ultimately prove both unproductive and unwise ... Civil-rights charges shouldn’t be deployed to trump an unsatisfying verdict."
Tomorrow, Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to speak to the NAACP in Orlando, Florida, and could address the next steps, if any.
A Civil Trial
More likely is a civil lawsuit against Zimmerman brought by Martin's family, seeking damages for wrongful death. But if a civil case is brought, Zimmerman can attempt to dismiss it using Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which the defense waived in criminal court, and could be awarded "reasonable attorney's fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred in defense of any civil action brought by a plaintiff." According to ABC legal analyst Dan Abrams, "Martin's family might be reluctant to file a civil suit ... because they may decide it is not worth the emotional cost or they might fear that they could wind up owing Zimmerman money."
His Own Lawsuits
"I think there are going to be a number of civil suits. I would be very surprised if any of those civil suits are filed against George Zimmerman and we welcome them," said O'Mara, turning the tables. "There are a number of events that happened during this case and the way certain people handled it that we may need to hold responsible."
One such example is Zimmerman's case against NBC for allegedly altering a 911 tape to make Zimmerman seem like he was emphasizing Martin's race. "This verdict of not guilty ... shows that at least this jury didn't believe that George was a racist, profiling, or anything that the press accused George of being," Zimmerman attorney James Beasley told the Washington Post. "[I]t's simply time for us to start the case and hold accountable anyone who was irresponsible in their journalism." Even with the trial over, neither side seems likely to let go any time soon.