Florida Judge Denies Delay To George Zimmerman Trial
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
In Sanford, Florida, a state judge has ruled that George Zimmerman will go to trial as scheduled early next month. Zimmerman is the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who shot and killed teenager Treyvon Martin. His defense had asked for more time to prepare.
And that wasn't the only bad news for George Zimmerman today. The judge also prohibited his team from using in court several personal details from Martin's life, including evidence of drug use and trouble in school.
NPR's Greg Allen reports from Sanford.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's been more than 15 months since George Zimmerman spotted someone he thought was an intruder in his townhome community. He phoned police saying the person was acting suspiciously. It turned out to be 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was staying there with his Dad. A few minutes later, there was a confrontation that ended with Zimmerman shooting and killing Martin.
Zimmerman's lawyers say he acted in self-defense. But after more than a year of preparing for trial, today Zimmerman's lawyer, Mark O'Mara, once again told a judge he needed more time. Judge Debra Nelson responded by reminding O'Mara of the schedule he agreed to nearly eight months ago, in October.
JUDGE DEBRA NELSON: I think that's sufficient time to get all the issues done and heard. The motion to continue is denied.
ALLEN: That was just one of nearly two dozen motions Judge Nelson ruled on today, nearly all upholding prosecutors' efforts to keep material about Trayvon Martin's personal life out of the trial. That material includes the 17-year-old's school records, which show truancies and suspensions. Also text messages in which Martin talks about marijuana, guns and being involved in fights.
Prosecutors say that material has nothing to do with the February night when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Zimmerman's lawyer, Mark O'Mara, told the court he believes Martin's interest in guns, marijuana and fighting is very relevant.
MARK O'MARA: All of that fits in squarely to what the defense is going to present as the reason why George Zimmerman was put in a position where he had to act in self-defense.
BENJAMIN CRUMP: Trayvon Martin is not on trial.
ALLEN: As has been the case at nearly every hearing, members of Trayvon Martin's family were at today's proceedings accompanied by their lawyer, Benjamin Crump. Crump said the judge was correct in ruling the material is inadmissible and not relevant to the trial. In pursuing it, he believes the defense has another motivation.
CRUMP: We think it was strategic when this information was released after the jury summons had went out. And it was calculated, we believe, to sway and pollute and influence the jury.
ALLEN: Outside the courthouse after the hearing, O'Mara said he was satisfied with the judge's ruling. But on the issue of Martin's marijuana use, O'Mara noted Judge Nelson's ruling keeps mention of it out of opening arguments. He believes as the trial progresses, the judge will allow it in.
O'MARA: That evidence, I think, is going to be particularly relevant once we start showing the expert opinions regarding matters of what effect and behavioral effect it would have.
ALLEN: The toxicology report on Trayvon Martin shows the teenager had THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in his system when he was killed. How much and whether it may have affected his behavior isn't clear. Judge Nelson says she won't decide how much of this material to allow into the trial until she hears from the state toxicologist.
George Zimmerman didn't attend today's hearing. O'Mara says he asked his client to stay home, partly because of concerns about his safety. High public awareness in the case also led O'Mara him to ask the court to sequester the jury, and do as much as possible to keep jurors' identities secret. O'Mara told the court that would help insulate potential jurors from community pressure.
O'MARA: That this jury is not going to have to go home and say, yes, I was on the jury that acquitted George Zimmerman.
ALLEN: Judge Nelson indicated she was leaning toward sequestering jurors and protecting their identities.
And there are still other issues that will be taken up in hearings next week, just before the trial. The defense is asking the court to impose sanctions on prosecutors for withholding evidence. The other hearing involves a voice recognition expert hired by the state whom Zimmerman's lawyers want to disqualify. The expert says after he cleaned up a 911 recording, he heard material other experts haven't reported, including Trayvon Martin apparently pleading for his life.
Greg Allen, NPR news, Sanford, Florida.
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