The move did not surprise Central Florida defense attorneys, who said Zimmerman did himself no favors by agreeing to an hourlong interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity on Wednesday night.
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So why did he take the risk of going on national TV to tell his story? Money, his attorney said.
"The defense fund is virtually out of money, and they can't provide shelter, security, anything pretty soon if the spending continues as it is and the donations continue as they are," O'Mara told the Sentinel. He described Hannity as his client's "earliest supporter ... a voice of reason saying let's not rush to judgment."
Zimmerman, O'Mara said, promised Hannity in April that he would get the Neighborhood Watch captain's first interview. O'Mara said the defense fund is down to about $30,000 to $50,000, "but there are outstanding bills that would pretty much devastate that."
The legal team has not been paid, he said, and the Hannity interview resulted in only a modest uptick in support.
As part of the fundraising effort, Zimmerman reactivated his website, TheRealGeorgeZimmerman.com, and posted a statement lamenting his "skyrocketing" legal and security costs. "We need your help again," he writes to supporters. He also posted a YouTube video in which he promised frequent updates to the site.
In the Hannity interview, Zimmerman, 28, rehashed his account of the February night he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman says Trayvon attacked him; prosecutors say he profiled and stalked the teen.
For the second time, Zimmerman apologized to Trayvon's family but also told Hannity that what happened that night "was all God's plan." Critics pounced on the phrase.
Donna Goerner, a Longwood attorney and former assistant state attorney in Sanford, said Zimmerman's statement probably did not come across the way he intended. But she had a message for him: "From my perspective, God sent you a messenger to stay in your truck," she said, referring to a police dispatcher who told Zimmerman not to follow the teen before the shooting.
"You didn't listen," she said.
O'Mara described his client as a "God-fearing" man. "I've used [that phrase] on occasion when bad things happen to people," he said. "As a term of art, was it perfect? I don't know."
Prosecutors and legal commentators have said the state will try to use Zimmerman's statements about the shooting against him by illustrating inconsistencies in his story. On Wednesday, he deviated at least twice from his previous versions of what happened the night he shot Trayvon.
Zimmerman told Hannity he walked toward Trayvon because he needed to find a street address for police, but he told Sanford police it was because he had forgotten the street's name, something detectives challenged him on.
Also, Zimmerman said on the night of the shooting that, while he was reporting the teen to police, Trayvon ran away. But he told Hannity "he was more … skipping, going away quickly. But he wasn't running out of fear."
O'Mara asked that the skipping comment "be taken in context." The whimsical image that term brings to mind, O'Mara said, was not what his client meant. He called that moment "evidence that [the interview] wasn't rehearsed."
The decision by Zimmerman's defense to allow an interview came as a surprise to many in the legal community.
Lyle Mazin, an Orlando defense lawyer, said a defendant has "unequivocal advantages" over the state: the right to remain silent and to have an attorney to speak for him. The Hannity interview, Mazin said, was "a fundamental failure of both of them."
"The more times a person tells a story, even if telling the absolute truth, the more [inconsistencies] will emerge," said Mazin, who has been critical of the state's case. "It's the human condition of storytelling."
The interview also seemed to signal a shift in strategy: O'Mara has repeatedly complained that coverage of the case has been excessive and vowed not to try the case in the media. He says no other interviews are planned.
"It's really baffling what he thought he'd gain from it," said Richard Hornsby, an Orlando defense lawyer. "I really question who's in charge of the defense strategy, whether it's Zimmerman or O'Mara."
An ABC News spokesman said Barbara Walters had trekked to Central Florida on Wednesday hoping for an interview but "walked away" after Zimmerman "made a request that we could not, and could never, agree to." O'Mara said Zimmerman asked ABC to provide "secure lodging" for his wife for a month, and that was only part of the reason the interview fell apart.
Zimmerman called "The View" on Thursday after hearing Walters talk about her effort to interview him the day before. Walters acknowledged the call on-air, but said: "If you could not do the interview yesterday, I do not think we should do a quick one today."
Staff writer Hal Boedeker contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-650-6394. email@example.com or 407-420-5171.