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Judge's rebuke to George Zimmerman: turning point in Trayvon Martin case?

The judge presiding over the Trayvon Martin murder case issued a harsh rebuke this week of George Zimmerman's dealings with the court. That probably won't serve the defendant well at his Stand Your Ground hearing, analysts say.

By Patrik JonssonStaff writer / July 6, 2012

Judge Kenneth Lester on June 29, conducts a bond hearing for George Zimmerman at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center in Sanford, Fla.. Lester ruled Thursday, July 5, that Mr. Zimmerman, who had been returned to jail after first bond was revoked, could be free on $1 million bail.

Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/AP

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George Zimmerman, who stands accused of killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, hasn't done himself any favors with the court during his bond escapades, the judge overseeing his case made clear this week. And that, say some legal analysts, could come back to haunt him during the next major step in his defense: the self-defense hearing.

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Although Seminole County (Fla.) Judge Kenneth Lester ruled Thursday that Mr. Zimmerman, who had been returned to jail after first bond was revoked, could be free on $1 million bail, his order also gave a stiff assessment of the defendant's actions to date. 

George Zimmerman, the judge's summation said, had masterminded a plot with his wife to manipulate the criminal justice system, may have planned to use $130,000 in donated money to flee the country before trial, and whose lawyer improperly portrayed him in court hearings as a scared young man, when the “only male whose youth is relevant” was Trayvon Martin.

With Judge Lester’s stern order, it appears that a case that many experts expected would be difficult for the prosecution to prove has become more problematic for Zimmerman. His defense team will have to lay out its version of events leading up to Trayvon's shooting against the backdrop of Zimmerman's damaged credibility – in front of a judge whose neutrality about the defendant's honesty has been sorely tested. 

“A witness’s credibility is everything, and the judge views everything Zimmerman says with a suspicious eye,” Mark NeJame, an attorney in Orlando, Fla., told the Palm Beach Post on Friday. 

Zimmerman has said that he simply stood his ground, as permitted under Florida law, and shot Trayvon in self-defense after the boy attacked him. The prosecution, which has charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder, says the defendant profiled Trayvon as a criminal, followed him, confronted him, and then shot and killed him when Trayvon defended himself.

Under Florida law, anyone claiming a Stand Your Ground defense is allowed a pretrial hearing before the judge. The defendant gets to make his case, per a landmark 2005 law, as to why he had no duty to retreat and how he used reasonable force in self-defense. If the judge agrees, the defendant is granted immunity from prosecution, and the case is thrown out.

At that as-yet-unscheduled Stand Your Ground hearing, Zimmerman is widely expected to take the stand to explain what happened, and also to be cross-examined by prosecutors, legal experts say. 

Lester is the judge who will preside over that hearing. 

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