Lead Attorney Mark O’Mara who secured the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman, the man charged with second degree murder of Trayvon Martin, is a deeply proud Irish American.
His masterful summing up at the end of the trial is widely credited with swaying the jury
He made clear his affinity with his Irish heritage in a letter to IrishCentral soon after he was named attorney for Zimmerman and he referred extensively to his Irish past.
O’Mara, originally from Queens, New York, followed his parents to Florida after high school, as his father had retired to the south after a career as president of the fire officers union.
He said he had known since grade school that he wanted to be an attorney.
"As a good Irish Catholic boy, the first possibility was to be a priest," O'Mara said. "The second one was to be a lawyer."
When asked why he took this case, despite the unpopularity of Zimmerman’s side of the story, O’Mara told AP, “It's what I do.
“I've done it for a long, long time. I think I'm pretty good at it. Mr. Zimmerman needs a very good and focused defense so we're going to build him one.”
As a defense lawyer O’Mara sees himself on the “front line” of protecting civil liberties.
"People harass criminal defense attorneys sometimes, but it's like going to a dentist — you never really want to go to one but you want them there when you need one," O'Mara said. "Not to sound too uppity about it, but we're the ones who really make sure the rest of us can enjoy the liberties that the Constitution guarantees, and that it's done right if it's going to be done at all.”
O’Mara, a central Florida defense attorney and former prosecutor, has nearly 30 years experience having represented clients in criminal cases running the gamut from drunk driving to the death penalty.
Most famously he became a household name on the local Orlando station, WKMG Channel 6, during Casey Anthony’s trial. O’Mara appeared regularly to air his critique on how the case was being handled.
O’Mara’s latest client, Zimmerman, had been charged with the second degree murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was walking home from the convenience store to his father’s fiancée’s home on 26th February. The 28-year-old self appointed neighborhood watch volunteer, Zimmerman, called the cops but before they had arrived he shot the unarmed teenager after a struggle.
He took on Zimmerman’s case after his ex-attorneys had dropped their client, deeming his behavior erratic.
O’Mara has said he will not take a fee from Zimmerman and has expressed concern about papers, which could violate the privacy of his client and Martin.
Speaking in court, O’Mara said, “He's frightened.” He went on to describe the case as "a horrible intersection of two young men's lives and it ended in tragedy. We have to figure out how it happened, why it happened, and who might be responsible for it."
The Florida attorney told the Associated Press that he joined the case after he was contacted by the Zimmerman family.
Zimmerman has told authorities that he shot Trayvon in self-defense and Florida’s so-called “stand your ground” law could provide a possible argument for his case. This law allows the public to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight if threatened.
In mid-March, before he took on Zimmerman as a client, O’Mara, said on WKMG that Zimmerman’s actions could be legally justified under the “Stand Your Ground” law.
He said, "People call it the license-to-murder statute because it doesn't require actions to avoid the confrontation…If you can present evidence or at least your own testimony that (you) felt in fear that he was going to commit great bodily injury or death, that is what kicks in the statutory protection that you're allowed to respond with deadly force."
Public Defender Bob Wesley, who knew O'Mara in law school, said he has a reputation for hard work.
"He was always a grinder, working, working, working…He will be hardworking and humble and diligently prepare the case for presentation."
Speaking to MSNBC, O’Mara’s longtime friend, and civil attorney, Joseph Flood, said, “He’s a brilliant lawyer” as well as a “renaissance man” who loves the arts and the Orlando Magic, rides a Harley and is very family-oriented.
Flood predicted, “I think he’ll be able to manage both the criminal prosecution side, which is going to be a big task, but also just as importantly he’ll be able to manage the media side of it.
“He will come up with the best defense that Mr. Zimmerman is entitled to get.”
“He’s fearless. I mean, he doesn’t mind taking on those kinds of cases … cases that have media scrutiny where people are looking over your shoulder and every word that you say is being posted on YouTube … every single thing you do is being called into question by 17 supposed experts,” said Flood.
“He believes in the process enough that he thinks they (meaning high profile clients) deserve a defense, too,” “The character that I admire in him about that is his willingness to put his skills on the line when not just a client and maybe a judge are watching, but when the whole city and, in this case, the whole world is watching.”
After graduating from Florida State University College of Law in Tallahassee, Florida, O’Mara served as the assistant state attorney in the Seminole County State Attorney’s Office from 1982 to 1984. He has been an active member of the Central Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Melissa Vickers, the current president of the group, said, “He’s very well respected. … He’s a great trial attorney. They’re in very good hands.”
No Irish Need Apply? Not anymore