By Allen G. Breed
and Kyle Hightower
LAKE MARY, FLA.: Whether they think that he got away with murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin or that he was just a brave neighborhood watch volunteer “standing his ground,” many Americans can’t seem to get enough of George Zimmerman. And he can’t seem to stop giving it to them.
So it’s hardly surprising that everything Zimmerman does produces a Twitterverse explosion and spins out into heavy news coverage. Comedian Deon Cole nailed it during an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien a couple of days after the July 13 verdict. Merely being found not guilty, he said of Zimmerman, “doesn’t mean that you’re a free man.”
He certainly hasn’t been free from the spotlight.
• Two stops for speeding.
• A cellphone photo of a smiling Zimmerman touring the Florida factory where the 9 mm semi-automatic pistol used in the February 2012 shooting was made.
• And, this past week, police dash-cam footage of Zimmerman kneeling in the street to be cuffed after an alleged scuffle with his estranged wife and father-in-law.
Like gangster Al Capone going to Alcatraz for tax evasion and O.J. Simpson serving time for robbing some sports memorabilia dealers, some interpret this series of unfortunate events as part of some cosmic comeuppance for a wannabe cop.
Granted, Zimmerman didn’t expect his visit to the Kel-Tec CNC Industries factory in Cocoa, Fla., to be a public event. Zimmerman has turned down all Associated Press interview requests since his trial, and his lawyers didn’t respond to messages about this story. But Shawn Vincent, a spokesman for the law firm that defended Zimmerman, told Yahoo News of the factory visit: “That was not part of our public relations plan.”
It’s not just his public outings and repeated brushes with the legal system that have kept Zimmerman in the spotlight. Martin’s parents were prominent participants in last month’s 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington, and several civil rights leaders have called for the repeal of “stand-your-ground” laws, which generally remove a person’s duty to retreat if possible in the face of danger.
Even when he helped extricate a family from an overturned SUV in July, Zimmerman couldn’t catch a break.
The grateful couple canceled a news conference, defense attorney Mark O’Mara said, “for the possibility of blowback against them.” People immediately suggested the incident was staged — or at least poked fun at the timing.
Zimmerman certainly has his supporters. Several groups launched petition drives urging the Department of Justice not to pursue federal civil rights charges against him.
“The jury has spoken and found that the prosecution failed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that George Zimmerman had malice or racism in his heart or even a reckless disregard for Trayvon Martin’s life when he shot the teenager, a petition on dickmorris.rallycongress.com declared. “The Justice Department should now butt out.”
But the trial seems to have set in motion some forces that are beyond Zimmerman’s control.
In late August, Shellie Zimmerman pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor perjury charge for lying during a bail hearing after her husband’s arrest. Last week, she filed for divorce, and felt compelled to tell the world about it. On ABC’s Good Morning America, she called her husband “selfish” and accused him of leaving her with “a bunch of pieces of broken glass” after the acquittal.
Zimmerman blames the trial for the implosion of his marriage, lawyers have said. His wife’s attorney, Kelly Sims, said the couple have been on a “Tower of Terror” — an apparent reference to the harrowing, Twilight Zone-themed ride at nearby Walt Disney World — since the shooting and had spent only a few days together before the divorce filing.