A judge ruled on Friday that attorneys for George Zimmerman, the neighborhood vigilante charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, can have access to the dead teen’s school records and social media accounts.
Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, who is the new presiding judge in this highly publicized and emotional case, said that Zimmerman’s attorneys can subpoena Trayvon Martin’s schools for his discipline records but must keep anything they obtain private.
“I think that you’re entitled to those records,” Nelson said during the hearing at the Seminole CountyCourthouse in Sanford, Fla.
The judge also granted Zimmerman’s request to subpoena Trayvon’s social media records, which were removed from the Internet after his death, as well as those of his girlfriend who was on the phone with him before the shooting.
Before the proceedings started, Martin’s family held a news conference that took a preemptive strike against the subpoena of those records.
“We think it’s a terrible precedent to set,” said attorney Ben Crump, who held a press conference with Trayvon Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton. “Why is it relevant about his school records or his Facebook page? George Zimmerman knew none of that on Feb. 26 when he claimed Trayvon’s life.”
The shooting took place when Zimmerman encountered Martin, 17, who was unarmed and walking through the Sanford neighborhood where his father lives.
Zimmerman, 29, has pleaded not guilty and is set to face trial June 10, 2013. He remains out on bail and is in seclusion.
Zimmerman appeared in court wearing a suit and tie, and he sat quietly while his attorney Mark O’Mara made his case for access to the records.
O’Mara said the defense wants the Twitter and Facebook accounts “in their entirety” of Martin as well as a witness — a girl who was on the phone with him when he encountered Zimmerman. The girl was not named because she is a juvenile.
O’Mara conceded that it “sounds horrible” to evaluate the reputation of the shooting victim, but he said that the records were crucial to showing that his client did not act with “ill will or hatred” of Martin.
“The issue in this case is who did what during those couple of minutes that we don’t know what happened,” O’Mara said.
Zimmerman maintains that Martin attacked him and beat him.
O’Mara told the judge that although the Facebook and Twitter accounts had been removed from the Internet, he has been able to access — though not authenticate — enough of the social media accounts to demonstrate that “that information could be very, very relevant to my defense.”
Crump, the attorney for Martin’s family, said that if the court calls for the release of Martin’s school records and social media postings, the family would demand the release of Zimmerman’s medical records, which he argued were far more relevant to finding out what happened on the night of Martin’s killing.
“If this was your child who was shot and killed, wouldn’t you want to know … if there were drugs that influenced (the shooter’s) judgment or decision making?” he said.
On Friday, Judge Nelson did grant a prosecution request for Zimmerman’s medical records, though she said she will review the medical records first to decide whether anything should be withheld.
This was the first hearing in the highly publicized case to come before Nelson, who replaced the previous judge, Kenneth Lester, in August after a judicial panel found that Lester had begun to form opinions about Zimmerman that could affect his impartiality.
Martin’s family also announced the establishment of a Change for Trayvon committee that will press for a change in Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which could be used in Zimmerman’s defense. That law allows use of force in self-defense when there is a reasonable belief of an unlawful threat.
Martin’s parents said they want the wording of the law to state that someone cannot instigate a fight and then claim self-defense.