Keep records sealed in Trayvon Martin case, defense lawyer says

By AUDRA D.S. BURCH

The Miami Herald

Updated: 4:07 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Posted: 2:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The defense attorney representing George Zimmerman, who faces second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, said on CNN Monday night that he thinks court records in the highly controversial case should remain sealed to help protect witnesses — the same day three neighbors told a news organization they saw Zimmerman with bandages after the shooting.

Mark O’Mara, who last week asked a judge to seal the records, cited concerns about the release of personal information of witnesses, including names, addresses and phone numbers.

“It’s an overall philosophy of trying to keep the information flow concentrated within the court system. It’s much better handled there. And, again, if information like this — even a police report with names on it — gets out, then my concern is that they are going to be spoken to,” O’Mara said during a live interview on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. “They are going to be questioned. There’s going to be four or five different statements from this one witness, let’s say, and then we have to sift through all of that to try and get to what is the truth.”

In the weeks since the case became public, at least a half-dozen witnesses — some publicly named, others kept anonymous — have given statements to reporters about what they saw or heard related to the shooting or Zimmerman’s appearance.

On Sunday and Monday, three witnesses, all neighbors of Zimmerman, told Reuters they saw him with bandages on his nose and head the day after he fatally shot the teen — statements that support his claims that there was a fight before the confrontation. Zimmerman’s account was later questioned when a Sanford police video showed Zimmerman at the station with no visible injuries.

Jorge Rodriguez, Zimmerman’s next-door neighbor, told Reuters he saw Zimmerman talking to a police detective in his driveway the day after shooting.

“…he had two big, butterfly bandages on the back of his head, and another big bandage…on the bridge of his nose,” said Rodriguez whose observation was backed up by his wife and a third neighbor who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In asking for the records to remain sealed, O’Mara said he’s also thinking about the safety of the witnesses, because “…with the publicity this case has gotten so far, and with the interest from all sorts of people — that there may be a concern for some safety to some of these people, should addresses be given out.”

Media companies including the Miami Herald have filed motions challenging the sealing of the records, which are normally considered open to the public in Florida.

O’Mara told Cooper that he is in regular contact with his client — in person and by phone — and that he is hopeful Zimmerman will be released on bond. A bond hearing is scheduled Friday but that could change after O’Mara filed a motion Monday asking Seminole County Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler to recuse herself from the case for a potential conflict of interest. The judge’s husband works with Mark NeJame, an Orlando area lawyer who is providing CNN on-air legal analysis on the case and was originally approached to represent Zimmerman.

Zimmerman is charged in the Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Miami Gardens teen who was visiting his father’s girlfriend in a gated townhouse subdivision in Sanford. Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watch captain, got into a physical altercation with the teen and shot him. Zimmerman is claiming self-defense.

O’Mara said that in order for bond to be denied a judge would have to “make a determination that the proof of guilt is evident….and the presumption is great. I am hoping that the judge is not going to decide that and we’ll get him out on Friday.”

The next step, he added, is to “keep him safe and then give me the time to do my job.”

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