George Zimmerman's friend writes book to defend 'the most hated man in America'

09/12/2012 6:01 AM

09/12/2012 1:22 PM

The federal air marshal who took George Zimmerman in after he shot Trayvon Martin has written a book about his controversial friend, and appeared on a national TV show Tuesday to say Zimmerman was a peaceful, loving — and innocent — man.

Mark Osterman, 44, is the friend who Zimmerman’s wife Shellie first called for help on Feb. 26, when her husband, a former neighborhood watch volunteer, shot an unarmed teenager. Osterman, a former Seminole County sheriff’s deputy, went to the scene, accompanied Zimmerman to his police interrogations and took the couple in for more than a month while they were vilified in the national media.

Osterman and his wife, Sondra, appeared Tuesday on the Dr. Phil TV show to plug their new book, Defending our Friend: The Most Hated Man in America. The show’s host, psychologist Phillip McGraw, hammered Osterman with questions, repeatedly suggesting Zimmerman was a “Rambo” who was to blame because he violated the basic premise of neighborhood watch programs by carrying a gun and getting out of his vehicle to track a suspect.

Osterman described Zimmerman as “heartbroken and devastated” over the killing. He added that Zimmerman had a concussion, and would likely not have survived if he had not used lethal force.

“There is no upside to this,” Osterman said. “From what George told me, he believes he would not be alive today if he had not done that. ... According to what he told me, there was no time to think.”

He said Zimmerman only got out of his car to follow Trayvon because he thought the dispatcher would not send the police if Zimmerman lost sight of Trayvon — a point Zimmerman himself never made. Osterman also said he was prepared to defend his friend to the death, suggesting that anyone who came after Zimmerman, “a firearm apprentice,” would instead encounter Osterman.

They’d better rest up for the encounter, Osterman said.

Osterman is a U.S. air marshal from Central Florida and his wife was a former co-worker of Zimmerman’s who officiated at his wedding. A former Seminole County Sheriff’s deputy, Osterman lost his job there after he was duped by a con artist who pretended to be a pro baseball player.

Osterman and Zimmerman regularly went shooting together, and the federal agent helped his friend pick out the gun that he used in the shooting — one that lacked an external safety and would be best for self defense, Osterman said.

Osterman’s friendship with Zimmerman is controversial, because many critics believe he coached Zimmerman on what to tell police. The lead Sanford Police investigator said Zimmerman’s account of the shooting sounded scripted, and many of the slain teen’s supporters believe it was Osterman who drafted the talking points.

Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda listed the air marshal as a witness for the prosecution.

Although Osterman suggested he wrote the book to raise funds for Zimmerman, the defense legal team took to Twitter Tuesday to distance itself from him.

“Osterman’s book and TV spot, although well-intentioned, are ill-timed and done without input and NOT approved by the defense,” the legal team wrote it its Twitter account.

Trayvon’s step-mother, Alicia Stanley, also appeared on the show.

“You sit here like you were proud: ‘I picked that gun out,’” she said to Osterman through tears. “Why would you want people to know that? I know he’s your friend, but that don’t mean he’s not a liar.”

Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch volunteer who said he killed Trayvon because the unarmed teenager attacked him and reached for Zimmerman’s weapon. Prosecutors, who claim that Zimmerman profiled Trayvon as a criminal, charged him with second-degree murder.

Osterman declined repeated requests for comment.

Steve Theodoropoulos, a former Orlando air marshal and well-known agency whistleblower, told The Miami Herald that Osterman continues to work with the air marshal service.

“He is a man who has integrity, values, and honor,” Theodoropolous said. “Mark is a soft-spoken person who is always looking out for his fellow man. He places his family at the top of his list and his job second. Mark and I had worked together on many missions, and we should be proud of his service to our country.

“This man was his friend. What would you do if a friend was in trouble?”

Trayvon’s parents will be on the show Friday, which airs at 4 p.m. on CBS4.

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