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George Zimmerman judge OKs question: Who was the real Trayvon Martin?

The new judge in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial allowed defense attorneys to subpoena social media networks and peruse Trayvon Martin’s school records to determine whether the slain teen had a violent past.

By Staff writer / October 20, 2012

George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer charged with second-degree murder for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, looks on during his hearing at the Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford, Florida on Friday.

Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/REUTERS



In sparking a nationwide call for justice, Trayvon Martin’s parents painted the slain teenager as sweet, aspiring, and well-meaning – notions backed up by a baby-faced photo that led President Obama to suggest, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

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But on Friday, a new judge in the second-degree murder case against George Zimmerman, the 29-year-old volunteer watchman accused of profiling, accosting, and then murdering an unarmed Trayvon on Feb. 26, made a major ruling that could alter that image.

Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson allowed, with limitations, defense attorneys to dig deep into Trayvon’s social media scribblings and school records to determine whether the boy had a violent streak that may have put Mr. Zimmerman into a self-defense stance.

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Whether any evidence dug up by Zimmerman’s defense team ever makes it to the media or the public will be up to Judge Nelson. But the ruling opens up a major new break in what’s shaping up to be an emotional, heart-wrenching trial that will explore not just Zimmerman’s guilt, but the extent to which race played into both Zimmerman’s actions and decisions by police in the aftermath.

“I have had anecdotal evidence that there were videos out there suggesting that [Trayvon] involved himself in MMA (mixed martial arts) fighting, he had an experience level with that,” Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, said after Friday’s court hearing. “I think the judge hit it on head … that reputation for violence is an issue in this case.”

The shooting caused a national uproar about racial profiling and permissive gun laws when local police in Sanford, Fla., where Trayvon was killed, let Zimmerman go free, citing the 2005 “stand your ground” law in Florida, which negated the legal doctrine of “duty to retreat” in the face of an attack. Forty-four days later, a special prosecutor filed second degree murder charges against Zimmerman, who is now out on bond at an undisclosed location in Seminole County.

On Friday, Trayvon’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, called Judge Nelson’s decision to allow the school and social media subpoenas a travesty, suggesting that by opening up Trayvon’s records it would allow defense attorneys to “make a dead child seem as if they’re the perpetrator.”

Yet there’s a sound legal reason for the judge allowing the defense to go on the offense, says George Dekle, a law professor at the University of Florida. True, he says, the prosecution has stated that the basic facts of the case – a grown man profiles a boy as a criminal, instigates a confrontation, then shoots him dead when the boy defends himself – substantiate a second-degree murder conviction.


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