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Trayvon Martin shooting: Should victim's high school file be made public?

The new judge overseeing George Zimmerman's murder trial, Debra Nelson, will on Friday set parameters for how new evidence – including shooting victim Trayvon Martin’s high school file – will be handled and discussed. Trial is set for June 2013.

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Trayvon's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, have scheduled a Friday press conference to protest the request to open their son's school records, saying it's an attempt to revictimize the slain boy.

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On the night of Feb. 27, Trayvon had left the house where his father was staying in Sanford to get some goodies at a convenience store, but he never returned home. His father found out the next day that Trayvon had gotten into an altercation with Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watchman who, after an alleged scuffle, is reported to have pulled out a gun and shot Trayvon at close range in the chest, killing him.

When police refused to prosecute Zimmerman, citing the state’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law, Trayvon’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, rallied civil rights leaders to speak out about what they saw as an injustice.

Such “stand your ground” laws, which state that lawful citizens have no “duty to retreat” from dangerous situations, have been under scrutiny since the shooting. Trayvon’s parents this week launched a new website, ChangeforTrayvon.com, in which they say those laws “allow individuals to shoot first and ask questions later.”

The shooting sparked protests in dozens of US cities. The subsequent decision to prosecute Zimmerman has also led critics to allege prosecutorial overreach, saying evidence and testimony raise doubt about which man was the aggressor.

Zimmerman's lawyers have said their client's injuries the night of the shooting – skull lacerations and a broken nose – prove that he was acting in self-defense. The prosecution has said that Zimmerman initiated the altercation, escalated it, and then used a gun to kill an unarmed child.

The central tenet of the case remains a few key seconds when, witnesses told investigators, Trayvon had Zimmerman on the ground. One witness said Trayvon was pummeling him “MMA-style” (mixed martial arts). Zimmerman told police that he believed Trayvon was trying to reach for his gun when he pulled it out and fired.

Nelson and a potential jury will grapple with difficult legal questions while weighing the credibility of the key witness, Zimmerman himself.

“Unnecessary does not mean unlawful, and just because somebody whose stupidity or an excess of testosterone puts himself in a situation where he has to use deadly force, the defense argument is that he still has a right to defend himself, and that is a justifiable argument that could be made in this situation,” says Professor Dekle.

“Let’s say you walk up to somebody and slap him in the face and he turns around and decides to try to use deadly force against you,” he adds. “Because you provoked that situation, under the law you don’t have a right to stand your ground, but under preexisting law, if you get backed into a corner, where you cannot retreat anymore, you still have a right to defend yourself, and use deadly force doing it.”

That issue – whether Zimmerman acted in self-defense – will be heard at a “stand your ground” mini-trial, probably in April or May. If Nelson rules for Zimmerman at that hearing, charges would be dropped, and Zimmerman would be immune from a civil lawsuit.

As with the previous judge, Nelson will be under pressure to rule against “stand your ground” immunity and instead send the case to a jury. Some community leaders have raised concerns about social unrest should Zimmerman be deemed not guilty.

“Of course I can’t say anything specifically about this judge, but I have seen judges in similar situations initially deny [self-defense] motions, let the jury decide, and then come back and review the decision after the conviction and then revisit the immunity issue and dismiss the case,” says Dekle. “There could be a stimulus on the part of the judge in a situation like this to see if the jury will take care of it for them.”

Zimmerman, who is in a secret location somewhere in Florida's Seminole County, was not in court Wednesday but is expected to appear Friday.

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