Ferguson and the lessons from Trayvon Martin

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

I believed we had learned lessons from the George Zimmerman case in how to better handle cases like the Michael Brown shooting. Zimmerman, you'll recall, was charged with shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager in Sanford, Florida, in 2012. I was Zimmereman's lawyer. That case caught national attention for the shooting itself, but almost more for the way law enforcement was perceived to have mishandled it and for the racial animus it exposed over how young blacks are treated in the criminal justice system.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that all of the right people have learned all of the right lessons from that case. Now, as the days drag on in Ferguson, Missouri, it seems that some involved, particularly in the law enforcement hierarchy, are not handling the Michael Brown case better than the Zimmerman case. In fact, this time it's being handled worse.

Poisoned relationship between police and minorities

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

I recently met a woman, the mother of three black teenagers. She told me that after the Trayvon Martin shooting, she forbade her boys to wear hoodies. She warned them never to walk around with their hands in their pockets. She was terrified that someone would find her boys acting suspiciously and one of them would end up being killed.

This is one hell of a thing to be afraid of. I don't think parents of white kids ever really feel this terror -- not in this way.

I defended the man who shot Trayvon Martin, and I believe that the verdict the jury returned was correct and just. But based on my experience defending young black men in the criminal justice system for 30 years, I know her fears are not without foundation. The shooting of Michael Brown -- an unarmed 18-year-old African-American in Ferguson, Missouri -- reinforces her fears, and it gives me a dull, empty feeling in my gut.

Justice Stories You May Have Missed This Week

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

This week, international stories dominated the news cycle, and that means some justice issues that normally would have received more coverage were buried. Here are a couple stories I think you should know about:

Shanesha Taylor

When Shanesha Taylor’s babysitter fell through, this homeless, single, war veteran mother made a desperate decision: she left her young children alone in a car for 38 minutes in 70 degree temperature while she went to a job interview. When she returned, her children had been taken away, and she found herself charged with two counts of felony child abuse. Last Friday, prosecutors offered a pre-trial diversion plan that will allow Shanesha to avoid prosecution. My team helped Shanesha and her lawyer handle the press in this high-profile case. Yesterday, Shanesha spoke out for the first time on the Today Show.

Ranesha McBride

Last winter, Ranesha McBride, intoxicated, was banging on a stranger’s door in the middle of the night. The resident, Ted Wafer, opened the door and, seconds later, shot McBride in the face after she allegedly tried to push through his screen door. The trial started this week, and while the defense should have a classic self-defense scenario, Wafer confused the issue when he claimed the shotgun went off accidentally. An accidental shooting could be manslaughter. A self-defense shooting is justifiable homicide. It will be interesting to see how the defense deals with this problem.

Here’s a report on the trial from this week.

Here’s my take on the defense’s dilemma from and opinion I wrote last year.

Another Botched Execution

Wednesday, Joseph Wood struggled to breathe for nearly two hours during a botched lethal injection in Arizona. This comes just months after an execution-gone-wrong in Oklahoma convinced the governor to temporarily put a hold on executions while they investigated what went wrong. Last week a Federal Judge in California ruled the death penalty in that state is unconstitutional -- mostly because of the “dysfunctional administration of California’s death penalty system.”

In April, I wrote an op-ed for CNN entitled “Execution, a 19th Century Relic We Still Can’t Get Right.”

Read a report about the most recent botched execution.

Here’s a report about the California decision.

Waiting for a Verdict

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

waiting mark

Sunday marked a year since the Zimmerman verdict.

July 13, 2013 fell on a Saturday. The afternoon before, I made my closing argument and left the matter in the hands of the jury. When the jury chose to recess just after 5:00 PM, I had hoped that they had quickly reached an “not guilty” verdict. Perhaps the court decided to wait until the next day so they could make preparations for an orderly presentation, considering the intense media coverage.

By mid-morning Saturday, those hopes were dashed as it became clear the jury was locked in deliberations.

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