Seven months after the killing of unarmed high school junior Trayvon Martin, the killer’s family is on a national media crusade to clear the family’s name.
What began as a series of routine media interviews denying that George Zimmerman is a racist blew up into a Twitter rant Monday night. Zimmerman’s brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., took to social media after midnight and vowed to make it his life’s work to have one of the Martin family attorneys disbarred. He said he would expose the lawyers and their publicist, “one by one, day by day.”
“I hope GOD grants you a long life so you live to repent for what you have done,” Robert Zimmerman Jr. wrote in a tweet directed to Natalie Jackson, one of the lawyers for the slain teen’s family.
In another, he wrote: “My Life’s work = you WILL be held accountable for your words/actions. You AINT seen NOTHIN’ yet... I will see U disbarred.”
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The flap underscored the heated rhetoric still notable regarding an incident that polarized the nation, and the extent to which legal advisors in the case were blamed for it. The threats posted online also highlighted the difficulty the Zimmermans have had managing their message, and the defense team’s inability to control the client — or his family.
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara said he cringed when he saw a relative of his client acting out on the web, and said the new media tour was launched without George Zimmerman’s knowledge. His message to Robert Jr: “Be careful with my case.”
“I have been cautious with how we act in this case and now someone with the same last name who does not act with the same constraints is out there — and I have no control over him,” O’Mara said. “They felt it was time to let the world know that the Zimmerman family is a good family. That goal is a noble goal.
“But they do have to be sensitive to the environment in which we are telling this story. No matter what, George is still at risk here. And we still have a dead young man — that’s fresh on everyone‘s mind. That frustrates me.”
The family’s media campaign follows months of public relations debacles.
Last month, Zimmerman’s best friend published a book riddled with errors that offered a new accounting of how Trayvon died. It wound up on the prosecution’s evidence list.
Zimmerman’s neighbor, who did more than 100 TV interviews on Zimmerman’s behalf, was arrested on a DUI charge, and the video of his arrest was posted on the Internet. A co-worker was discredited on national television when it seemed he hardly even knew Zimmerman.
The family did very few interviews, but complained vehemently about their portrayal in the press. In July, Zimmerman’s parents, Robert and Gladys, launched a website to raise money for their life in hiding and to share details about their son, who they described as a longtime altar boy who donated blood, mentored black children and collected clothes for the homeless.
After Zimmerman’s best friend published his book that included a scene that depicted the so-called “most hated man in America” as wildly paranoid against blacks, Robert Jr. took control of the family image himself.
In an email sent to several reporters last week, Robert Jr., 31, said his family sent him to Los Angeles to do a series of local television interviews aimed at “reintroducing the Zimmerman family.” He stressed that he was the only authorized spokesman for the family.
“For far too long, we have kept silent about our plight at the hands of those who made assertions about our family members that were false,” he wrote. “Many assertions made about my brother have now proven to be false as well.”
The family believes they were skewered by the “national media machine” that did not uncover hard facts, but instead was manipulated into destroying the Zimmermans’ lives. He made a reference to what critics have dubbed the “scheme team:” attorneys Jackson and Benjamin Crump and Orlando publicist Ryan Julison.
Conservative critics accuse the three of orchestrating a false narrative about the case for their own profit, presumably a payout from the insurance policy of the homeowner’s association where Zimmerman lived.
In the past week, Robert Jr. appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s show, Univision’s Despierta America, and several radio and TV shows out of Los Angeles. His assignment: to read a condolence letter to Trayvon’s parents and paint his brother as a married, working, college student who was attacked by Trayvon and libeled in the press.
Robert Jr. denied a request by The Miami Herald for an interview.
On Monday, he appeared on Piers Morgan Tonight with his mother, her face obscured. Gladys Zimmerman froze at probing questions and offered condolences only after she was pressed by the show’s host.
Once the show was over, Robert Jr. reacted strongly to tweets referring to comments his mother made about a 2010 case of a homeless black man beaten by a Sanford cop’s son. Her son, Gladys Zimmerman said, was the only one who helped the man.
The homeless man was represented by Jackson, the Martin family lawyer, who grew up in Sanford and has a solid Twitter following that enjoys her sarcastic remarks about the case. On Monday, she alluded to him being a “murderer” and suggested that his brother’s CNN appearance was a fundraising drive.
That’s when Robert Jr. responded with a series of tweets threatening her license. She quipped back: “Please see my Rule #1: Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference — Mark Twain.”
In an email Tuesday, Robert Jr. stood by his twitter tirade.
“I don’t want her to be able to use her position as an attorney to assassinate anyone else’s character or to ever hurt anyone else’s family,” he said.
Jackson dismissed the spat, saying she could not be sure if the person who posted the threats was really Zimmerman’s brother.
“I don’t take stuff personally from family members,” Jackson said in an interview. “I do criminal defense work and I understand how families react. I don’t think people should attack them or threaten them in any way. It’s stressful when someone you love is possibly going to jail for life.”
Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder for the Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon, 17, who was spending the weekend at a Central Florida townhouse complex. Zimmerman called police when he thought the teen looked suspicious, and minutes later the two were tussling on the grass.
Zimmerman says he was forced to shoot Trayvon, who attacked him. Prosecutors say Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer, profiled the teenager and has no claim to self defense.
Attorney Crump said he preferred not to comment on the tweet directed at him by Zimmerman’s brother.
“We are trying to stay focused on holding the killer responsible for the death of Trayvon. We’re trying to keep it there,” he said. “Name-calling doesn’t get us anywhere.”