George Zimmerman defense team loses key rulings in Trayvon Martin case

A Florida judge on Tuesday barred lawyers from mentioning controversial texts and photos by Trayvon Martin in opening arguments – one of several defeats for George Zimmerman's defense.

Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/AP
Circuit Judge Debra Nelson listens to defense attorney Mark O'Mara during a pretrial hearing Tuesday in Sanford, Fla., for George Zimmerman, the accused shooter of Trayvon Martin.

A judge in Sanford, Fla., ruled Tuesday against George Zimmerman’s defense team on several key issues in preparation for his trial on charges of second-degree murder in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012.

In a two-hour hearing at the Seminole County Courthouse, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson ruled that defense attorneys will not be able to mention Trayvon’s past marijuana use, his suspension from school, or his alleged participation in fights in their opening statements.   

The rulings came after Mr. Zimmerman’s defense team recently posted online photos and text messages from Trayvon’s cellphone. The texts included several about being a fighter, smoking marijuana, and being ordered to move out of his home by his mother. The photos included a picture of what appeared to be a .40 caliber handgun, the Orlando Sentinel notes.

In other rulings, the judge refused to allow jurors to travel to the scene of the shooting, calling such an excursion “a logistical nightmare.” She also denied the defense’s request for a delay in the start of the trial, now scheduled to begin June 10. 

In another victory for prosecutors, Judge Nelson granted their request to bar evidence about why it took so long for them to charge Zimmerman in the alleged crime. And she ruled against a defense motion that jury candidates be sequestered during the jury-selection process.

But not all of the rulings in Tuesday’s court action went against the defense. The judge denied the prosecutors' request for a gag order in the case. And she granted the defense team’s request to hold a hearing on whether the prosecution failed to turn over some evidence. A former attorney in the state attorney’s office has charged that prosecutors did not turn over some photos and text messages from Trayvon’s phone.

The judge will hold another hearing on June 6. At that session she will hear arguments about whether to admit testimony from a state audio expert, Alan Reich.  In a report to prosecutors, Mr. Reich says the audio of a 911 call has the voice of Trayvon saying in a trembling voice, “I am begging you.”

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Trayvon’s family, said his family was pleased with the judge’s rulings. “Trayvon Martin is not on trial,” Mr. Crump said.

After the hearing, Robert Zimmerman, George’s brother, called on the state to drop the second-degree murder charges. “In this country. You don’t charge someone with any crime solely to assuage the concerns of misinformed masses,” he said, according to CNN.

Zimmerman is charged with shooting Trayvon while serving as a neighborhood watch volunteer. Zimmerman called 911 to report “a suspicious person” in the neighborhood. Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty in Martin's death, saying he acted in self-defense. 

• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. 

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