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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Chris Cuomo Interviews George Zimmerman

Aired February 17, 2014 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: George Zimmerman one-on-one with CNN's Chris Cuomo, talking about his life, his run-ins with police, death threats, and regrets since the night he killed Trayvon Martin.

Also this hour, a young woman and her newlywed husband are accused of brutally killing a man they just met on Craigslist.

And in a jaw-dropping jailhouse interview, this self-described Satanist claims that she's a serial killer who has been at it since age 13, with so many victims over the years that she simply lost count.

And a preacher who starred in a reality show about handling snakes in his church dies after refusing to be treated for a deadly snake bite.

Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Monday, February 17th, and welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

It is George Zimmerman like you've never heard him before. The former neighborhood watchman acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin during a scuffle talking to CNN for the first time today. "New Day's" Chris Cuomo goes one-on-one with George Zimmerman. Have a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS CUOMO, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEW DAY": Do you regret that you killed Trayvon Martin?

CUOMO (voice-over): It's a simple question, but one George Zimmerman can't seem to answer.

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, ACQUITTED OF MURDERING TRAYVON MARTIN: Unfortunately, the Department of Justice is conducting a civil rights investigation, so those are the types of questions that, because of the investigation, I have to tread lightly and I can't answer them.

CUOMO: We checked, and Department of Justice is investigating any civil rights violations but says charges aren't expected. Still, Zimmerman's reluctance seems to be about more than legalities.

CUOMO (on camera): Do you regret that night? Do you have regrets about it?

ZIMMERMAN: Certainly I have -- think about that night and I think I -- my life would be tremendously easier if I had stayed home.

CUOMO: If you could go back, you would have stayed home that night?

ZIMMERMAN: Certainly, yes. In hindsight, absolutely.

CUOMO: And now, as a point of clarification, you said my life would be so much easier. When you say, I wish I had stayed home that night, are you thinking about you and also Trayvon Martin?

ZIMMERMAN: Certainly, I think about them -- him. I think about my family. All the families that have been put in any type of dangerous situation. So, yes, I think about everybody involved.

CUOMO: But safe to say, if you could change how that night came out, you would both be alive today?

ZIMMERMAN: I think that's just a different way of rephrasing it.

CUOMO: If you could go back and do it again, you had said you would have stayed home that night?

ZIMMERMAN: I would have stayed home.

CUOMO: So that both of you would still be alive today?

ZIMMERMAN: That's a presumption I can't make. I don't know what would have happened. I could have gotten in a car accident when I left, you know, the -

CUOMO: But you wouldn't have wound up killing Trayvon Martin if you had your way?

ZIMMERMAN: He probably wouldn't have ended up attacking me either if I would have stayed home (INAUDIBLE).

CUOMO: His family -- do you think about his family? Is that true?

ZIMMERMAN: Certainly, yes.

CUOMO: Because people want to know that, right? Coming out of this situation, they haven't heard you say "I feel for his family."

ZIMMERMAN: I appreciate the opportunity. I would hope that they had seen that at the bond hearing I did address that.

CUOMO: It's different in court.

ZIMMERMAN: Oh, sure, but I was just simply stating that I did address it. It's -- because another misconception is that I've never apologized, I've never reached out to the family. Would I like to? Certainly.

CUOMO: What would you say?

ZIMMERMAN: You know, I would say exactly what I said on the stand, that I'm sorry for their loss. And I -- just exactly what I said on the stand, most likely.

CUOMO: Thoughts about the victim, Trayvon Martin. The victim was Trayvon Martin. You know that.

ZIMMERMAN: No, I certainly was a victim when I was having my head bashed into the concrete and my nose broken and beaten. So I - I wouldn't say I was not a victim.

CUOMO (voice-over): Of this, Zimmerman is sure, despite the public outrage painting him as a racist and a strong case by a prosecution calling him a murder.

CUOMO (on camera): What do you want to say to people who believe that you went out that night as a vigilante looking for trouble and found it and bailed yourself out?

ZIMMERMAN: I don't focus on them. I deal with their hatred by loving my supporters more.

CUOMO: When people would reach out to you for the wrong reasons, who were supportive of you for the wrong reasons.

ZIMMERMAN: Yes.

CUOMO: You know, because they like that a young black man had been killed, how did that make you feel, that they saw you somehow symbolically as representing them?

ZIMMERMAN: Equally as disgusted with them as I was with people that were threatening my family and saying negative things about me.

CUOMO: Sitting through all of it, listening to the evidence and everybody's different take on you and your actions and your reactions and why, did it make you doubt yourself?

ZIMMERMAN: No.

CUOMO: Why not?

ZIMMERMAN: Faith. I know --

CUOMO: In yourself or in God?

ZIMMERMAN: No, God. I know that ultimately he's the only judge that I have to answer to. He knows what happened. I know what happened. So I leave it up to him.

CUOMO (voice-over): A faith that keeps him in Florida, despite a number of threats on his life.

CUOMO (on camera): Did people around you say, George, you've got to go?

ZIMMERMAN: I'll never leave this country and I'll leave my home when I want to leave my home. I know it sounds stubborn and maybe ideological, but I'll move when I want to. CUOMO: The word "haunted" often comes up in these situations. Do you find yourself haunted by memories of that night?

ZIMMERMAN: No.

CUOMO: Because?

ZIMMERMAN: I don't know.

CUOMO (voice-over): George Zimmerman is not haunted by taking a man's life. Perhaps more surprising, Zimmerman thought his life would stay the same.

CUOMO (on camera): The feeling was that people will accept this. You know, I'm going to go through the trial, it is what it is, the outcome will be accepted and then I move on. That's what you though would happen?

ZIMMERMAN: I was hoping for that, yes.

CUOMO: And when did you realize you weren't going to get what you hoped for?

ZIMMERMAN: I think it was the first speeding ticket when that made international news. It was shocking to me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: Yes, that speeding ticket made international news, but the speeding ticket would be the least of his concerns. Just ahead, more of Chris Cuomo's interview with George Zimmerman. And you would think that while the Michael Dunn hung jury and partial verdict is blowing up the headlines, that he would have something to say given all the comparisons that have been made to his case. You're not going to believe what he said to Chris Cuomo about the Michael Dunn case and about the news that it's making. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Want to pick up now with more of Chris Cuomo's one-on-one interview with George Zimmerman. And, obviously, after the big headlines this weekend of the Michael Dunn trial ending in a partial verdict, what an appropriate question for George Zimmerman. He talks about that. But he also tells us his side of the story in the Trayvon Martin killing about what's next in his future and also the run-ins with the law he's had since the murder trial.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OFFICER: As long as you don't have any warrants, you'll be cut loose with a warning, OK?

CUOMO (voice-over): It was a simple speeding ticket, but nothing is simple when George Zimmerman is involved. It would be the first in a string of run-ins with police that some saw coming. CUOMO (on camera): That expectation that it's just a matter of time, he'll do it again, he'll do it again, this is what he's about. What do you make of that kind of --

ZIMMERMAN: Don't pay it any mind. Don't pay it any attention at all.

CUOMO (voice-over): Next, Zimmerman's wife called 911 claiming he was threatening her and her father with a gun. There were no charges. Their divorce is pending.

Then, Zimmerman's girlfriend accusing him of threatening her with a shotgun. This time, Zimmerman would call 911 to get his side of the story out.

DISPATCHER (voice-over): So why are you calling? What happened?

ZIMMERMAN (voice-over): I just want everyone to know the truth.

CUOMO: His girlfriend would later drop the charges and lift a restraining order against him. During our interview, she and her young daughter wouldn't leave his side. And neither will controversy, thanks in part to his new hobby.

CUOMO (on camera): I've read what you put out there about the paintings. This is therapy. It's helping me. But you had to know they were going to cause attention when you put them out there, right?

ZIMMERMAN: Absolutely.

CUOMO: What did you want that attention to be out? Why are you putting the paintings out?

ZIMMERMAN: To be honest, I was hoping to be able to provide a decent lifestyle for my family.

CUOMO (voice-over): Decent indeed. Zimmerman's first painting sold for more than $100,000. But the next painting was priceless, for a different reason.

CUOMO (on camera): Angela Corey painting. Provocative. I have this much belief in the justice system. You knew that was going to be provocative.

ZIMMERMAN: Yes.

CUOMO: Why do it?

ZIMMERMAN: It was a creative, tangible form to show my inner thoughts, my inner feelings.

CUOMO: Negative towards Angela Corey.

ZIMMERMAN: Oh, of course. I mean it provided a tremendous release for me. So, yes, it was worth it.

CUOMO (voice-over): And then there was the fight. A move as confusing as it was disturbing. The man whose defense at trial was an inability to hold off a teenager was now a prizefighter, willing to take on all comers for charity.

CUOMO (on camera): The idea of you fighting, you know, is just -- the image is bad. And let alone that, you know, might be like a black rapper, like DMX or something. I mean just the racial overtones of it, you know, were so horrible. What were you thinking there?

ZIMMERMAN: When I signed on, it was never going to be a black rapper, white rapper, Asian, Hispanic rapper, anything like that. It was going to be an unknown person. It was going to be a smaller event.

CUOMO: The whole theory of this case is that Trayvon wound up beating this guy down, you know, and this was bad. He had the marks on the back of his head. But now he wants to fight? He's a fighter? You know, do you understand how that was -- there was a contradiction there for people?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes. And, again, that fraction of people that said that are the small percentage that don't realize that a boxing match with a referee in controlled conditions are significantly different than being mounted. As the witness stated, ground and pounded. If I went out there and I got beat up, the charity was still getting paid. I don't want to get beat up, but I saw it as an opportunity. I never expected it to be -- to turn out the way it did.

CUOMO (voice-over): George Zimmerman seems to feel that way about a lot of things. For example, becoming the face of white-black tensions in America.

ZIMMERMAN: I actually had two full Peruvians raising me and one American. So I felt almost like two-thirds of my upbringing was the Peruvian -- black people in my family. So it was very shocking to me that simply based off my last name people would make that presumption.

CUOMO: Though he's at the center of a debate about self-defense laws, he has little to say about them.

CUOMO (on camera): Because of what you've gone through, and what your case was about, do you have feelings about self-defense and where the line should be, and what's right and what's wrong? Do you have thoughts about that?

ZIMMERMAN: I am not well versed enough to tell you. I feel until I sit down and study the Constitution and probably 10 years' worth of legal findings, I wouldn't be able to draw a solidified conclusion. And I don't want to do what others have done to me and speak without examining information or facts. I do, however, support our Second Amendment right.

CUOMO (voice-over): You might think Zimmerman would be riveted to the Michael Dunn trial, given its comparisons to his own situation.

ZIMMERMAN: I guess I should have prefaced this interview by letting you know that I don't watch news anymore. I watch comedy shows, home improvement shows. So I -- I'm not well enough informed to give you exacts.

CUOMO: How about advocating for the stand your ground laws that many identify with him?

CUOMO (on camera): Are you comfortable being the face of stand your ground?

ZIMMERMAN: I'm not comfortable being the face of anything, to be honest with you.

CUOMO: It's what Zimmerman wants to be the face of going forward that may be the most confounding, justice.

What do you want to do with your life?

ZIMMERMAN: Good. I'd like to professionally be -- continue my education and hopefully become an attorney.

I think that's the best way to stop the miscarriage of justice that happened to me from happening to somebody else.

I don't think it should happen to anyone, ever again, not one person.

CUOMO: What was the miscarriage of justice?

ZIMMERMAN: The fact that two law enforcement entities stated that I had acted within the laws of our nation in self-defense.

CUOMO: You don't think it was about the law.

ZIMMERMAN: I know it wasn't, yes.

CUOMO: And what does that make you?

ZIMMERMAN: Like a scapegoat.

CUOMO: A scapegoat for?

ZIMMERMAN: The government, the president, the attorney general.

CUOMO: They would be scapegoating you why? Just to show they're taking a position on something that matters to a lot of people?

ZIMMERMAN: I don't know what they're thinking or why they're thinking it. All I know is that they're doing it. I don't know what agenda they have.

CUOMO: The case is over, but the judgment continues. While George Zimmerman may have won his freedom, he will probably never be truly free.

ZIMMERMAN: I have a lot of people saying that, you know, they guarantee that they're going to kill me, and I'll never be a free man.

I realize that they don't know me. I've learned that the majority of people when they sit down with me one-on-one are -- or with my family and I, they get a completely different perspective on me.

CUOMO: When you're somewhere and people recognize who you are, what do you do?

ZIMMERMAN: Smile.

CUOMO: How often do they smile back?

ZIMMERMAN: Ninety-nine percent of the time. The one percent that don't are the most vocal percent, definitely the most threatening percent, because they are very vocal about their displeasure.

CUOMO: People are angry, George. They're angry.

The case wound up being seen as a metaphor for miscarriage of justice, blacks not receiving the same justice that whites do, their lives not mattering as much.

This case became a metaphor, an example from that. Your face became the face of this is the guy who gets away with killing a black kid.

What do you do with that?

ZIMMERMAN: Hope that I'm dispelling those. If it takes one person a day at a time to help them realize that that's not what this case was about, then that's what I'll do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: It's just fascinating to `hear him speaking this long after the case, and, of course, on the heels of the Dunn case.

Also interesting to hear if George Zimmerman shows any remorse about the loss of Trayvon Martin.

We're going to talk with the man who did the interview, Chris Cuomo, and also with the attorney who defended Zimmerman in court, Mark O'Mara, Chris and Mark, coming up, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: In the wake of the surprising and partial verdict in the Michael Dunn case, a lot of people drawing a lot of parallels between the killing of Jordan Davis and the death, as well, of Trayvon Martin, shot and killed by George Zimmerman.

Zimmerman free and clear of the criminal charges is now telling his side of the story to my colleague, Chris Cuomo.

And joining us not only to talk about that is the CNN legal analyst, Mark O'Mara, who defended George Zimmerman in that case. Welcome, Mark. Welcome, Chris.

Chris, I want to begin with you. When I watched you ask those questions of him about the Dunn case, which has exploded all over the headlines -- you just can't walk by a newsstand without seeing this. He said he knew nothing about it, the kind of thing that altered his entire life. I personally didn't know if I could believe that.

CUOMO: Well, I believed it. I believed it because of the nature of the answers and the conversation that we had had. I don't think he had any reason to lie about it.

And Mark will be a good sounding board for this. I put that in the piece because I thought it was a window into who we're actually dealing with, that George Zimmerman has been given a lot of power by people that he's a sophisticated guy who knew the law and he could get away with killing if he did it a certain way.

I think he is something significantly and substantially less than that. I think that he is an unsophisticated guy, and he is an example of what happens when you have a low standard for self defense, that somebody who makes a chain of wrong decisions then winds up in a situation where he has to defend his own life because of a situation he put himself in, and he winds up beating the rap.

That's where I put it in. He doesn't know about self defense law. He doesn't know about "stand-your-ground" law.

BANFIELD: Even now?

CUOMO: Look -- he left it to O'Mara and West, which was a smart decision for him.

I don't know, Mark, if you feel differently about it, but I feel that there is a very high degree of unsophistication.

BANFIELD: Mark, jump in there. Does it sound plausible to you? You know him better than anybody, that he would not have followed this case?

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I'll tell you. He wasn't before, he wasn't today and he doesn't want to be the poster child for "stand- your-ground." self-defense, gun rights or anything else.

What happened with the Zimmerman case, it was the timing. Trust me. If the Dunn case had happened before Zimmerman, if the case out of North Carolina happened before Zimmerman, they would have been sort of the cases that everyone focused on.

What I think happened with the Zimmerman case is that everybody who is very upset about the overuse of guns, maybe the overuse of guns against young black males took the Zimmerman case as the cause celebre.

But it wasn't George Zimmerman. He was never that type of person. He just found himself in a situation where he had to react toward what he perceived to be a threat, great bodily injured and had a gun on him.

But as Chris said, he's not particularly sophisticated in the area of what the mantle put on for him. BANFIELD: Chris, weigh in on this issue, because I was zeroing right in when you asked about remorse for the death of a 17-year-old, now known to be unarmed, Trayvon Martin.

And it felt as though he was right back there that night where he was confronting the guy who broke his nose as compared to a 17-year-old kid who had the right to be there.

CUOMO: I think he is so secure in the notion that he was a victim that it is difficult for him -- again, it goes to sophistication -- to distinguish himself being a victim and Trayvon Martin being a victim.

You would think that even if you were forced to take someone else's life to save your own --

BANFIELD: You'd feel awful.

CUOMO: You would, especially a kid, especially an unarmed kid. I don't believe he feels that.

I think he feels he did what he had to do, he's the victim, he has been falsely blamed, he has been wrongly accused, wrongly tried. And that's for real.

The most telling part of the interview for me, and the reason we left it in, and you know this would be unusual, is the silence.

When I ask him what he wants to say to the family, he is silent for a long time. He's looking around the room to his supporters who were there, because he didn't know what to say.

And I think that's because he believes on some level he's owed the apology.

BANFIELD: You don't think it was more strategic than that, in terms of he is still facing the possible civil rights violations.

CUOMO: No.

BANFIELD: There's still litigation that's lying out there.

CUOMO: No.

BANFIELD: And he says I'm sorry, that's effectively capitulating.

CUOMO: No. First of all, they're looking into civil rights violations. There is probably in all likelihood nothing going to come out of it.

I think that that's an easy excuse for him, but I think it goes deeper.

BANFIELD: I heard him say that he was still the victim.

And, you know, you can say, he took a beating that night, and ultimately his life has been completely altered forever.

But he's got his, and Trayvon Martin doesn't have his.

CUOMO: Yes.

BANFIELD: Great interview, excellent and very insightful.

And, Mark, it's good to have you on this, as well. Thank you as always for your time, and, Chris, thank you, not only for your interview, but being on the show, as well.

CUOMO: A pleasure.

BANFIELD: So just ahead, since we discussed that Dunn trial, since we mentioned it with regard to the comparison to George Zimmerman's case, how about it?

How about that mistrial in the Michael Dunn case on that top count of first-degree murder, that "Loud Music" murder trial that has made loud headlines everywhere?

The Florida prosecutors say they are going to retry that case, at least that charge, anyway.

The "LEGAL VIEW," coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)