Three-judge panel grants George Zimmerman new judge

A Florida appeals court has granted George Zimmerman a new judge after he and his lawyer claimed the judge in his case made 'gratuitous' and 'disparaging remarks' about Zimmerman.

By , Reuters

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    George Zimmerman, left, and attorney Don West appear before Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester, Jr. in June. On Wednesday, a Florida appeals court granted Zimmerman a new judge.
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A Florida appeals court ruled on Wednesday that George Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, should be granted a new judge in his case.

The decision from the three-judge panel came in response to a motion filed by Zimmerman's lawyer asking the court to overturn a ruling by Judge Kenneth Lester refusing to step down from the case.

"We direct the trial judge to enter an order of disqualification," the state's Fifth District Court of Appeal wrote in its opinion.

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One of the judges dissented in the decision.

Zimmerman, a 28-year-old who is white and Hispanic, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the Feb. 26 shooting death of the 17-year-old Martin.

Martin was unarmed and walking back from a store when Zimmerman called a 911 dispatcher and said the teen looked suspicious. Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self defense after he was attacked and Martin repeatedly slammed his head to the ground.

Martin's killing drew national attention after police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, citing Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law and the shooter's assertion that he used deadly force because he feared his life was in danger.

In a motion filed last month seeking a new judge, Zimmerman's lawyer, Mark O'Mara, claimed Lester made "gratuitous" and "disparaging remarks" about Zimmerman and showed bias in a July 5 bond ruling raising his bond from $150,000 to $1 million.

The increase came after prosecutors presented evidence that Zimmerman and his wife, Shellie, misled the judge about their finances. Shellie Zimmerman was later charged with perjury.

Lester issued a scathing decision at the time, writing that Zimmerman "tried to manipulate the system." He said Zimmerman's explanations for not disclosing around $135,000 from anonymous donors raised for his defense "changed with each retelling."

Zimmerman is out on bond and living in an undisclosed safe house in Seminole County in central Florida awaiting trial.

Reporting by Kevin Gray, editing by Philip Barbara.

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