What is next for Zimmerman after acquittal?
By Michael Martinez
(CNN) — The acquittal of George Michael Zimmerman, 29, means he’s a free man and will be able to walk out of the courthouse because he’s no longer in police custody.
He will be free, if he chooses, to leave Seminole County, Florida. But one of his attorneys, Mark O’Mara, has said that Zimmerman is a marked man and lives in fear for his life.
In fact, during court proceedings, Zimmerman didn’t disclose where he had been residing for more than a year, and he dared to venture outdoors only when in disguise. Zimmerman also wore body armor.
“I believe his life is at risk, and I don’t say that for dramatic effect,” O’Mara said before the verdict. “There are a lot of people who think George killed Trayvon Martin for racial reasons, even though nothing supports that. And if they feel that anger enough, they could react violently.”
It’s doubtful that Zimmerman would be able to return to his pursuit of a career in law enforcement. He was enrolled in Seminole State College at the time of the February 26, 2012, shooting.
One expert advised against such a plan for Zimmerman.
“That is the absolute worst thing you can do,” said Mike Paul, a reputation management counselor in New York. “It might be your old passion. My advice would be, you need to find a new passion. And it needs to be helping people in a very different way, a way that is much more compassionate, not just involving law enforcement.”
Zimmerman — who is married but has no children — may choose to resume his career in mortgage insurance or in an undergraduate education.
It remains to be seen whether his post-acquittal life could parallel that of another high-profile defendant found not guilty: Casey Anthony, the Florida woman accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter in 2008.
“You never know who the nuts are or where they are,” said Cheney Mason, a defense attorney for Anthony. “There are still people that threaten me.”
Mason acknowledged that when the court of public opinion deems a defendant guilty, life can be very difficult.
Zimmerman apparently enjoys support from his parents and immediate family, some of whom testified in his defense.
He has been able to pay for his defense by raising thousands of dollars from the public.
But crisis public relations manager Gene Grabowski said Zimmerman must tread carefully when accepting further public money.
“He’s got to be careful to avoid the appearance of creating more divisions by accepting money or support openly from groups that maybe that would create more friction because of the tenor of this case,” Grabowski said. “He’s got to be careful about who he associates with afterwards, even if they are offering financial support.”
The three-week trial ignited a national debate about race relations. Martin, an African-American high school student, was walking through a gated community in Sanford, Florida, to his father’s fiancee’s house when a confrontation occurred between him and Zimmerman.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, called 911 to report “a suspicious person” in the neighborhood. Despite the dispatcher’s instructions not to get out of his vehicle, Zimmerman exits his SUV, and an exchange unfolded between Martin and Zimmerman.
Neighbors heard a single shot fired. Zimmerman asserted he shot Martin in self-defense as Martin beat his head against the concrete sidewalk. Zimmerman, who describes himself as Hispanic, has a Peruvian mother and white American father. He has been free on bail since last July.
Initially, Sanford police didn’t charge Zimmerman because they said they had no grounds to disprove his account.
Led by Martin’s family, a public uproar ensued, in which even President Barack Obama remarked that the incident required “soul-searching.”
Then, almost two months after the shooting, a special prosecutor charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder.
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