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Trayvon Martin texts, photos: Might they change Zimmerman trial?

Trayvon Martin texts, photos – all unflattering – were posted online Thursday by George Zimmerman's defense team. They may yet be ruled inadmissible in court. But they are already making the rounds in the court of public opinion, ahead of Zimmerman's murder trial.

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To the Martin family attorneys, the photos and cellphone records should be deemed irrelevant. “Is the defense trying to prove Trayvon deserved to be killed by George Zimmerman because [of] the way he looked?” they said in a statement Thursday. “If so, this stereotypical and closed-minded thinking is the same mindset that caused George Zimmerman to get out of his car and pursue Trayvon, an unarmed kid who he didn't know.”

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Much of the evidence released Thursday is unlikely to ever go before a jury because it is irrelevant, says Bob Dekle, who teaches law at the University of Florida. “On a plea of self-defense you can sometimes get into evidence of prior violent acts or character of the deceased … but saying something about fistfights in high school? Kids get into fistfights at school. I did, and I don’t think that made me someone that needed to be shot,” he says.

Most evidence uncovered during “criminal discovery” in preparation for trial becomes a matter of public record in Florida, even if it isn’t allowed to be introduced to the jury. That’s an overly broad law, in Mr. Dekle’s opinion. “It offers a marvelous opportunity for gamesmanship on the part of both sides for disclosing stuff that they understand is not going to be admissible,” he says.

Calling attention to this material and playing it up in the press is a public-relations strategy, law experts say.

“No judge will allow this to be a trial of whether the victim is a bad person,” O’Donnell says, “but it can color the whole trial – it can color the judge’s view of the victim and can affect the jury pool.”

The photos and cellphone records will also likely stir up similar debates about racial stereotyping that first emerged with the question of whether Zimmerman was suspicious of Trayvon because he was black and wearing a hoodie.

One photo, for instance, depicts Trayvon showing some gold teeth – often considered a black stereotype. Another photo shows a handgun, and several show him sticking up his middle fingers. The cellphone texts could also be interpreted by some as heavy on street or even gangster-type language, and for some potential jurors, that would stick in their minds, O’Donnell says.

With the country polarized around this case, these depictions would try to bolster the anti-Trayvon sentiment and perhaps help raise money for Zimmerman’s defense, O’Donnell adds.

Associated Press material was used in this report.


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