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George Zimmerman's Fox News interview: Risky step for Trayvon Martin's killer?

George Zimmerman, charged with killing Florida teen Trayvon Martin, agreed to an interview with Fox News this week. Legal experts say submitting to the media spotlight this way is a tricky step for criminal defendants and their attorneys. What's said can be used against them.

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The interview is also expected to be effective in reaching potential jury members, says Daniel Filler, a criminal law professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia and a former public defender in New York.

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“It’s entirely possible that his lawyers will never put him on to testify so these public statements may be the only testimony jurors will ever hear from him,” Mr. Filler says.

The televised statements will only enter the court record through the prosecution, which will not likely happen since Zimmerman said little outside his defense strategy and there are not yet other media interviews to present the possibility of a conflicting account.

The interview, therefore, “is really about humanizing him and putting the story out there without exposing him to cross examination,” Filler says.

Of course, there are always risks to the strategy.

Early media interviews with former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky backfired after he denied accusations that he had sexually molested young boys but appeared aloof to the traditional boundaries between adults and children – the likely reason his attorneys kept him from testifying at his trial.

Mr. Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of child sex abuse involving 10 boys over 15 years.

Last month, criminal defense lawyer Pattis arranged and sat in on a televised interview between his client Anna Gristina and Matt Lauer of NBC’s Today Show. Ms. Gristina is the mother of four dubbed the “Soccer Mom Madam” for promoting prostitution from her New York City apartment.

Pattis says “the general rule is you don’t give interviews because there’s no accounting what questions will be asked and what your client says may be admissible” in court. He says the opportunities only become advantages when the clients vigorously prepare beforehand.

It is uncertain if the Fox interview is Zimmerman’s last moment in the media spotlight before his trial. The New York Post reported Thursday that he arranged an interview with Barbara Walters of ABC News, but Ms. Walters canceled the appearance when Zimmerman asked the network to pay for a month-long stay at a hotel.

When to end interviews once the ball starts rolling?

“Pretty quickly,” says Filler.

“If you can get the story out once well … that one public statement will be repeated on every other network, so you need not keep doing it again and again. The danger happens if [the accused] makes multiple statements and they become inconsistent,” he says. “Less is more.”

RECOMMENDED: How 5 young black men see the Trayvon Martin case

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