Veteran defence attorney Hal Uhrig is accused of asking a victim of child rape to falsely recant her testimony, and police claim he may have offered similar deals to others
A lawyer who defended George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin shooting has been arrested on suspicion of trying to induce a child rape victim to falsely recant her testimony.
Prosecutors in Florida charged Hal Uhrig, a prominent defence attorney with more than 30 years practice, with witness tampering and solicitation to commit perjury while several years ago defending a man accused of raping a nine-year-old.
They accused Mr Uhrig of holding a meeting in his office with his client, the victim and the victim’s father, instructing them to lie in a letter and during depositions to say the rape did not happen.
Sheriffs arrested the lawyer on his way to court on Monday morning and paraded him before cameras at the Osceola County jail, before releasing him on bail that evening.
Sheriff Marcos Lopez said: “The victim didn’t buy into what [Uhrig] was trying to sell, she didn’t feel comfortable with it, and she’s the hero. My hat goes off to her because it takes guts to do what she’s doing.
“The point of the meeting was to keep the rapist from going to jail.”
Mr Uhrig denied the charges, telling Fox 35 Orlando: “Didn’t happen. Be happy to hear the recording.” If convicted, he could face a life sentence in prison.
George Zimmerman’s arrest in 2012 ignited a global debate about racism, with his trial in 2013 ultimately finding him not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Black teenager whom he had fatally shot.
Mr Zimmerman, a Hispanic man initially identified as white by police, was head of the neighbourhood watch in a gated community where Martin was staying with relatives, and said he had shot Martin in self-defence after following him in the belief that he was suspicious.
In April 2012 Mr Uhrig said: “The reason that Trayvon Martin is dead is not because he’s Black. It’s because that six foot three young man made a terrible decision and a bad judgement.”
Egter, Mr Uhrig quit the case about a week later, before the trial began, because an “emotionally crippled” Zimmerman had stopped responding to calls and messages.
According to prosecutors, the rape victim, who is now a teenager, and her father reported Mr Uhrig to the police this July, with the father then agreeing to meet with him while wearing a recording device.
Mr Lopez said Mr Uhrig told the father to turn off his cell phone and then read a script from a computer screen. Police are now investigating whether he made similar requests to other victims.
Mr Lopez said: “If you’re an attorney you’ve been practicing law for a long time and there’s no way you’re going to jeopardise your career on something like this. Especially at that age – it’s retirement time,”
“So I think that this wasn’t his first rodeo. Unless someone else comes forward we won’t know that, but that’s what I suspect at this time.”
Asked whether he would fight the charges, Mr Uhrig said: “Absolutely … we’re just going to go back to the boards like we always do. Sort out what happened. I’m not guilty of this.”