Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

The word “sorry,” in all its varied permutations, raises all sorts of problems when there’s  war going on.  If the words are said, it blunts the anger. It makes the speaker appear kinder, and forces the hearer to temper anger with grace or look lose the moral high ground.

Of course, it’s also an admission, if not handled gingerly.

Mark O’Mara handled it with skill. He put Zimmerman on the stand in a bail hearing to speak the word. From the New York Times :

“I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son,” Mr. Zimmerman, 28, said in a soft voice from the stand, dressed in a dark suit, with his hands locked in cuffs, and shackles at his feet and waist. “I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am. And I did not know if he was armed or not.”

The lawyers for the Martin family immediately attacked Zimmerman’s apology,

Describing Mr. Zimmerman’s apology from the stand as “self-serving,” Mr. Crump said he considered it a ploy to help win his release from jail and curry favor with the court and the public through the news media.

This may well be true, but it was a damn fine ploy.  And a ploy that the Martins handed Zimmerman, and O’Mara, on a platter.

Mark M. O’Mara, Mr. Zimmerman’s lawyer, said he had asked that Mr. Zimmerman be allowed to apologize privately to the parents, but the request was rebuffed. He said Mr. Zimmerman wanted to answer the three questions that he had heard Mr. Martin’s mother raise during a television interview.

“He answered very specifically the three questions posed by the mother: Why haven’t you apologized? Did you know he was a teenager? And did you know he was unarmed?” Mr. O’Mara said.

The Martins teed up the ball, and Zimmerman hit it out of the park, whether you buy the apology or not.  After news broke of the hearing, my old pal Dan Abrams was on TV non-stop talking about how shocking this was, that Zimmerman said he was sorry.  Danny said that in his experience, such a thing had never happened before.  This was curious, given that his experience was limited to sitting in a TV studio with a camera aimed at his head.

It seems too obvious for words that this is not your garden variety criminal case.  While no case is garden variety, but just treated that way by lawyers and judge, this one really stands apart for the curious facts and overkill attention.  As much as this type of attention will wreak havoc with the system, it similarly offers certain opportunities for an adept lawyer to use it to his advantage. O’Mara did so deftly. 

Unlike Dan Abrams, O’Mara saw beyond the routine and came up with a way to seize the opportunity to make one of the most hated men in America a kinder, gentler guy.  It was a brilliant move.

Was Zimmerman’s apology sincere? Who knows. There’s no way to know what he feels.  Some of you will be so ridiculously arrogant as to argue one way or the other. You don’t know. I don’t know.  He may well have gained a benefit from sitting on the stand and saying sorry, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t real.  Don’t try to guess, It only makes you look foolish.

What you should appreciate is how Zimmerman’s lawyer seized the opportunity to use the “sorry” card to his advantage, regardless of whether it was sincere.  When a defendant doesn’t say sorry, it’s the first thing thrown in his face by the family of the victim. They hold the natural high ground, having suffered grievous loss without any possibility of fault.  They almost can’t say the wrong thing.  Almost.

A huge problem that arises when they complain about the lack of apology, then refuse to let the defendant apologize. It’s the one thing a victim/family can’t do, be disingenuous.  The Martins’ lawyer, Benjamin Crump, is busy screaming about Zimmerman putting on a show for the media and the judge, which may indeed be true, but he made the show not only possible, but a sure-fire hit.

As cases receiving exorbitant media attention are frequently a great place to learn what not to do, this one stands in stark contrast at the moment.  As much as the media can be a nightmare, it can also offer opportunity for the lawyer who keeps his eyes open and sees the chance to exploit a weakness in the news cycle.  If you look at it like Dan Abrams, devoid of thought, understanding or originality, you will never see these opportunities.

Mark O’Mara saw it and seized it.  No one can ever take Zimmerman’s apology away from him. It’s been said, and it’s now a permanent part of the narrative. Well done.


8 comments on “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

  1. John David Galt

    How likely is it that Zimmerman’s apology will be used by his opponents to convict him? Would you have advised him to say it?

  2. SHG

    There’s no question that Zimmerman pulled the trigger, so the admission that he shot Martin has no downside. If I had thought of it, I would definitely have advised him to say it. It was brilliant.

  3. CLH

    Given the media coverage of the event, would you try to move to another venue? And would it be worth it anyway given the media saturation? Unless either the prosecution or the defense royally screws up voir dire, I predict a hung jury.

  4. SHG

    What venue? Mars?

    Predicting the outcome is a bit premature. Wait for the evidence. At the moment, we only know what the media tells us, and the media isn’t a particularly reliable source.

  5. JMS

    As you say, the “sorry” part – by itself – carries no downside. It’s unconventional, pretty much risk-free, hopefully shifts the media weather, and in a worst-case scenario will certainly come into play at sentencing. Well played!

    But the bit about “I did not know if he was armed or not,” though, is much more problematic. In New Jersey, at least, self-defense only justifies deadly force when “the actor reasonably believes that such force is necessary to protect himself against death or serious bodily harm.” N.J.S.A. 2C:3-4(b)(2). I presume Florida’s got something similar, and if so, Zimmerman’s statement that he wasn’t sure if Martin was armed isn’t as strong as I’d like.

    If there’s case law saying, “When you don’t know either way, err on the side of using deadly force,” then I guess there’s no harm.

    But otherwise, I think if Zimmerman omitted that last sentence, he’d still get nearly all of the benefit with even less risk.

  6. SHG

    I had the exact same reaction, at first. After reading O’Mara’s explanation, I understood that to be in direct response to a question posted by Trayvon Martin’s mother, which provided context and made sense. Otherwise, it struck me as one sentence too far as well.

  7. Alex Bunin

    “I wanted to say…” sounded like a qualification. He might as well have stared at his shoes. I don’t think he lost anything, and it was a good try, but it did not win over anyone that counts.

  8. SHG

    So he’s not ready to turn pro. The media narrative has moved markedly to center since the apology. That’s impressive.

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