Relieved that he was exonerated for killing Trayvon Martin, but disgusted that he was charged with murder in the first place, George Zimmerman said he is considering law school in order to help people wrongly accused of crimes like himself.
Zimmerman, 29, was found not guilty in a case that sparked a national debate on race, “Stand Your Ground” and gun laws.
After leaving the Seminole County courthouse in Sanford, Fla., Zimmerman reportedly had dinner with defense witness John Donnelly and his wife, Leanne Benjamin.
They got to know Zimmerman in 2004 when he and a black friend opened up an insurance office in a Florida building where Benjamin worked. They grew close and the couple spent time with him during the trial.
Over dinner with Zimmerman recently, Benjamin said he told them he would like to go to law school.
“I’d like to help other people like me,” she was quoted by Reuters as to what Zimmerman told her.
Zimmerman, an insurance investigator, attended community college and was a credit shy of an associate degree in criminal justice but was kicked out of school because he posed a danger to the campus, according to family sources.
“Everybody said he was a cop-wannabe but he’s interested in law,” Benjamin said. “He sees it as a potential path forward to help other people like himself.”
Zimmerman’s defense attorney Mark O’Mara agreed.
“He wanted to be a cop for awhile, but he’s talked about going to law school,” O’Mara said.
“He has a real interest in the law and … prosecuting appropriately — not like what he got — is something he’s very interested in. I will not be surprised if he ends up in criminal law,” O’Mara said. “His dad was a judge, and he wants to be a prosecutor or a lawyer.”
Experience shows that rebuilding one’s life after a major trial may prove difficult, even for those acquitted of headline-making crimes.
Casey Anthony, the young Orlando, Fla., mother acquitted in 2011 of killing her 3-year-old daughter Caylee, remains hidden and unemployed while her lawyers fight civil lawsuits seeking monetary damages from her.
Former NFL star O.J. Simpson was acquitted in 1995 of killing his wife and an acquaintance, but his life fell apart. He lost a $33 million wrongful death civil suit in 1997, moved to Florida where he was arrested and eventually sent to prison in 2008 for up to 33 years for robbery and kidnapping.
Zimmerman’s brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., said George Zimmerman’s life would never be the same after the trial, which has forced him to go out in disguise and wear bullet proof vests because of threats to his life. But at least Zimmerman gets his gun back.
Meanwhile, Donnelly told Reuters that Zimmerman was hurt very deeply by prosecutors’ portrayals of him as a racist vigilante who targeted and pursued Martin simply because he was black.
“The person they are talking about is somebody completely different,” Donnelly quoted Zimmerman as telling him recently. “Sometimes I have to go look at a mirror. They are talking about a totally different human being. They are talking about a racist. I’m not a racist.”
He said Zimmerman was anything but.
“He’s been mentoring young black kids for years, he launched a campaign to help a homeless black man who was beaten up by a white kid, and he still just can’t believe all the things that have been said about him in the media.”
Other friends of Zimmerman who spoke exclusively to Reuters remain angry at what he has endured since the shooting.
“I knew the man was innocent the whole time,” said Jorge Rodriguez. “He called me yesterday to thank me … for believing in him. He was just so relieved.”
Rodriguez is angry with people like Al Sharpton, who he feels pressured prosecutors into charging Zimmerman with a crime he didn’t commit.
“Everybody asked for justice, and they got it,” Rodriguez said. “Everybody asked for George to be arrested, and they got it. Everybody asked for George to be tried, and they got it. Everybody asked for a fair trial, and they got it.”