George Zimmerman Waives Right To 'Stand Your Ground' Hearing

George Zimmerman, charged with murder in the Trayvon Martin shooting, is back in court. His lawyers say prosecutors have adopted unethical tactics that have hampered Zimmerman's defense. The case goes to trial in May and Zimmerman's lawyers say the government is making it hard for them to be ready.

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In Sanford, Florida, today, George Zimmerman waived his right to have a S Stand Your Ground hearing before his trial. Zimmerman is the neighborhood watch volunteer charged in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin. Under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, Zimmerman could ask a judge to grant him immunity from prosecution, claiming he used deadly force because he believed he was in danger.

But as NPR's Greg Allen reports, Zimmerman and his attorneys say they want the case to be decided not by a judge but by a jury.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Florida's Stand Your Ground law has been part of this case since that February night over a year ago when George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman told police he killed the teenager in self-defense after a struggle. Because of that, police delayed arresting Zimmerman, leading to weeks of protests that turned the case into an international news story.

But Zimmerman's lawyers haven't asked the court to schedule an immunity hearing. And with the trial set to begin in just over a month, time is growing short.

Today, Judge Debra Nelson had the defendant, George Zimmerman, sworn in so she could ask him herself.

DEBRA NELSON: Is it your decision not to have a pretrial immunity hearing?

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: After consultation with my counsel, yes, Your Honor.

ALLEN: Zimmerman is charged with murder but is out on bail. He's been living in hiding, reportedly with a bodyguard. It was his first appearance in court in two months. Zimmerman isn't waiving his right to claim immunity from prosecution under Stand Your Ground, just his ability to assert that claim before he goes to trial.

Outside the courthouse in Sanford, Natalie Jackson said the moment was a victory for those who marched and protested. She's one of the lawyers representing Trayvon Martin's family.

NATALIE JACKSON: He gave up that right. He will proceed to trial. That means that everyone who thought that he should have been arrested and proceed to trial is vindicated by this judgment today.

MARK O'MARA: That's an absurd position. That's apples and oranges.

ALLEN: Mark O'Mara is George Zimmerman's lawyer.

O'MARA: The reality is we made a tactical decision how to handle this case. And George wants this case before a jury of his peers. That's where he's going to get acquitted.

ALLEN: O'Mara has suggested he could ask for a ruling on his client's Stand Your Ground claim during the trial, and perhaps even afterwards if a jury finds him guilty.

Also today, long-simmering resentments between Zimmerman's defense team and state prosecutors bubbled up. For months, the defense complained to the court that prosecutors have stonewalled their requests for information. Today, that resentment boiled over and O'Mara asked Judge Nelson to impose sanctions, including financial penalties. O'Mara said the prosecutors' delaying tactics were hurting his ability to mount Zimmerman's defense.

O'MARA: So when do we get to the point where we actually start playing fair? When do we try this case on the merits and not on what's hidden in the shadows?

ALLEN: Some of the most contentious issues between Zimmerman's lawyers and prosecutors deal with a young woman identified only as Witness 8. She was on the phone with Trayvon Martin when his struggle with Zimmerman began. Because of that, she's potentially a key witness in the case. But in recent weeks, Witness 8's credibility has come into question after she misled prosecutors on some key facts: her age and where she was the day of Martin's funeral. She said she was in the hospital. But last summer, prosecutors learned that was a lie.

Zimmerman's defense team, though, says they didn't learn the truth until last month. They told Judge Nelson they believe prosecutors deliberately concealed the information. In an unusual development, O'Mara put his co-counsel Donald West on the stand where he was cross-examined by Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda. De la Rionda questioned how relevant Witness 8's lie ultimately is to Zimmerman's case.

BERNIE DE LA RIONDA: And you believe that's exculpatory, right? That's going prove the innocence of this man right here, the defendant?

ALLEN: Defense attorney West said even evidence not at the center of the case could have a strong bearing on its outcome, especially if it undermines a key witness. Judge Nelson said she believed there had been some discovery violations, but would wait until after the trial to decide whether to impose sanctions on prosecutors. Nelson also ordered Trayvon Martin's family to give attorneys details of a settlement they recently reached with the homeowners' association in the community where their son was killed. Greg Allen, NPR News, Sanford, Florida.

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