AFRICANGLOBE – After more than a year of protests, investigations and legal wrangling, George Zimmerman gets his day in court after killing Trayvon Martin.
At the start of George Zimmerman’s murder trial, expect Trayvon Martin to be portrayed as an innocent teenager, an unarmed 17-year-old who was killed on Feb. 26, 2012 in Sanford while walking home in the rain.
By the time it concludes, however, Zimmerman’s defense attorneys hope that jurors will have a more menacing view of him. That’s critical to justifying George Zimmerman’s claim that he shot Martin dead in self-defense.
In a series of pretrial hearings, Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson laid the groundwork for what jurors will hear during the second-degree murder trial, expected to be one of the most watched this year. In general, she banned defense attorneys from introducing reputation-damaging evidence about Trayvon Martin – but she left lots of wiggle room.
If defense attorneys can convince her during the course of the trial that it’s relevant, she may allow them to put on evidence showing that at the time of his death, Trayvon Martin had marijuana in his system; that he had discipline problems at school; and that he had a history of fighting.
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara suggested that the information about Trayvon Martin’s past can still “become relevant” for jurors if prosecutors present evidence beyond the five-minute encounter between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.
“The Martin family, through their handlers, presented a picture of who Trayvon was, and who George was, that is totally inaccurate,” O’Mara said.
O’Mara predicted he would be able to show relevance of text messages found on Trayvon Martin’s cell phone which indicate, among other things, that the Miami Gardens teenager was involved in competitive fighting. Jurors will not hear about Trayvon Martin’s prior marijuana use nor will they see a photo of him wearing a set of gold teeth.
The attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family, Benjamin Crump, praised the judge’s decisions.
“Trayvon Martin did not have a gun. Trayvon Martin did not get out (of) the car to chase anybody. Trayvon Martin did not shoot and kill anybody,” Crump said. “Trayvon Martin is not on trial.”
One of the most important issues before the judge was what to do with a state audio expert, Alan Reich, who’s expected to testify that he heard Martin say, “I’m begging you,” in the background of a 911 call made by a neighbor just before Zimmerman shot Martin.
She will deal with that by holding a hearing to determine whether Reich used scientifically accepted techniques.
She’ll also take up another issue then: Did prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda lie when he told her he had turned over every scrap of evidence related to Trayvon Martin’s cell phone to Zimmerman’s attorneys?
Wesley White, a lawyer and former co-worker of de la Rionda, testified that three photos plus some deleted text messages from Martin’s cell phone were found and given to de la Rionda. One photo was of a hand holding a gun and one was of drugs, White said. O’Mara said those had not been handed over.
Expert testimony on Trayvon Martin’s alleged marijuana use on the day of the shooting – an autopsy revealed he had the active ingredient for the drug in his system – could also be subject of legal wrangling during trial.
The judge did decline a defense request to allow jurors to visit the gated community where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed, saying it would confuse jurors and be impossible to re-create the exact lighting and rainy conditions.
“I think it’s a logistical nightmare,” Nelson told the lawyers.
Six jurors will decide whether Zimmerman is guilty of second-degree murder, but what their lives will be like once they’ve been named to the panel remains a mystery.
Judge Nelson accused defense attorneys of leaking word – and getting it wrong – that the jurors would be sequestered, forced to be separated from their families and spend nights together in a hotel for as long as the trial lasts in an attempt to isolate them from outside influences.
The judge and attorneys will begin picking a panel of six jurors and four alternates, according to Seminole County Clerk of Courts Maryanne Morse.
Normally at a second-degree murder trial, attorneys pick just two alternates, but in this case the judge is apparently building in extra protection by adding more alternates.
Alternates are sometimes called to step in if a juror is unable to finish the job – for example, if he or she gets sick or is kicked off the panel for violating one of the judge’s rules, such as discussing the case with someone or surfing the Internet for news about the case.