George Zimmerman, the defendant in one of the most-watched murder cases in the country, on Thursday added a new lawyer to his defense team: veteran Orlando attorney Donald R. West, who specializes in murders.
Attorney Mark O’Mara, lead defense counsel in the case, plans to make a formal announcement today.
West has handled some of the most high-profile criminal cases in the Orlando area in the past 20 years.
In 1998, he served as co-counsel and helped Joseph “Crazy Joe” Spaziano get off death row. Spaziano is the former motorcycle gang member who was convicted of raping and murdering an Orlando teenager, whose body was found in an Altamonte Springs dump.
West also represented Orlando music mogul Lou Pearlman on bank-, mail- and wire-fraud charges, and political consultant Doug Guetzloe, who was sentenced to 15 months in prison earlier this month for failure to pay taxes.
West spent several years in private practice, specializing in death penalty cases, before joining the federal public defender’s office in Orlando. He left that job Thursday, specifically to join O’Mara and defend Zimmerman, he said.
“That’s true,” West said. “I am excited about taking it on. It’ll be quite a challenge. … This seemed like the right case.”
He and O’Mara, long-time friends, had dinner recently, he said.
“I hadn’t seriously considered being involved in the case, then just by coincidence, Mark and I wound up going out together. … We talked about it. I was flattered when he was interested.”
West said he expects to be in court in Sanford Friday with O’Mara for a hearing about whether evidence should be released to the media and public before trial.
To read the entire story by Renee Stutzman and Jeff Weiner, go to Orlando Sentinel