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Should the police file on the man who killed Trayvon Martin stay secret?

Prosecutors in the Trayvon Martin case have presented their case against George Zimmerman's to the defense, increasing pressure on the judge to rule on their request to keep the evidence secret.

By Patrik JonssonStaff writer / May 15, 2012

George Zimmerman appears before Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester Jr. during a bond hearing in Sanford, Fla., in April.

Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/AP/File



Prosecutors in the Trayvon Martin shooting began to sketch an outline of their case against George Zimmerman on Monday, citing new video evidence, a long list of witnesses and experts, and hints of a trail of facts, forensic details, and witness observations that they hope will lead a jury to a second-degree murder conviction.

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But after weeks of national introspection into what really happened between Mr. Martin, an unarmed black teen, and Mr. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, on the rainy night of Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., the guts of the hefty Zimmerman file remain secret.

The prosecution, for its part, wants to keep it that way, having asked Judge Kenneth Lester to waive Florida court transparency laws in order to keep some witness names secret.

It’s a bold request in a state that has enshrined “sunshine,” or government openness, into its constitution, and where reporters in the Casey Anthony murder trial last year received daily updates on details ranging from Ms. Anthohy’s pony-tail holders to racy emails.

But the urge to keep the Zimmerman file under wraps is largely based on an atmosphere of threats and concerns about witness cooperation that both sides fear could undermine a trial.

The pressure on the judge to issue a decision on the prosecution’s request from April 27 has increased with the defense discovery process Monday.

“When you think of Florida, it’s not short on crime and not short on spectacular, newsworthy crimes, but even despite all these high-profile trials through the years, this is the first instance in which I can see a judge seriously considering limiting access to a discovery file,” says Charles Davis, an expert on open records at the University of Missouri.

“But therein lies the problem of closing the file,” says Mr. Davis. “Is there a real sense of some looming threat? And can it be tied to the release of more information in the discovery files? That’s a much tougher leap to make. The overall takeaway from discovery records is [they] tend to add context to a case, not take away from it.”

Prosecutor Angela Corey has already complained about the number of leaks in the case, from the release of 911 tapes to pictures showing Zimmerman’s arrival at police headquarters. She is seeking to keep some bits of the Zimmerman file away from the press.

Major news organizations, meanwhile, have met with the judge to urge full disclosure of the defense discovery process, in which prosecutors, as they did Monday, literally hand over their evidence to the defense. In this case, it amounted to 67 computer disks-worth of evidence combed from hundreds of hours of detective work, including transcripts of dozens of witness accounts.

So far, the biggest remaining mystery is Zimmerman’s state of mind and a murky two-minute span in which the two men clashed, fought, and Zimmerman pulled out a 9 mm pistol and shot Trayvon once in the chest, killing him.

Without more facts, the basic question of motive in the case remains unanswered: Was Zimmerman a conscientious citizen who ended up in a bad spot, as his supporters argue, a racist vigilante with a bone to pick with young black men, or something in between?


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