In a surprise move leading up to the murder trial of George Zimmerman, defense lawyers have waived his right to a “stand your ground” hearing, removing the last major barrier to bringing the case to trial this summer.
A hearing would have determined whether Zimmerman’s shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin last year was fell under the state’s “stand your ground” statute legitimizing the use of deadly force for self defense; if the judge had decided in Zimmerman’s favor, he would have walked free instantly.
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara made the announcement in court on Tuesday during an evidence hearing, but did not indicate if he would try to use it in his strategy once the case goes before a jury. The defense could still possibly try to roll the hearing into the jury trial. “There’s only time for one hearing, and that’s a jury trial,” O’Mara said. Zimmerman did not appear at the evidence proceedings.
Zimmerman’s defense has met with several setbacks in recent weeks. Judge Debra Nelson ruled that the attorney representing Trayvon Martin’s parents, Benjamin Crump, did not have to be deposed about his conversations with a person known only as “Witness 8” — the girl Martin was speaking to on his cellphone just minutes before the confrontation with Zimmerman that resulted in his death on Feb. 26, 2012. She also ruled that the conditions of Zimmerman’s bail should not be changed.
The development comes amid speculation that the defense is running out of money and resources to win the case. According to the defense team’s website, Zimmerman has raised more than $314,000 as of January. But he is appealing to supporters for more funds and has asked for an extension of the June 10 trial date.
However, the prosecution suffered a setback as well, the Orlando Sentinel reported. During the hearing on Tuesday, it was revealed that some statements from “Witness 8” about where she was on the day of Martin’s funeral were untrue. She had said she was in the hospital that day. “In fact, she lied,” said defense attorney Don West. She also apparently led Crump to believe she was 16 at the time of Martin’s death, when she was really 18.
Nothing has come forward to show she was lying about what she heard on the phone on the night Martin was shot. According to released evidence, she was talking to Martin when he said a man was following him in the gated community where he was visiting with his father. He told her that he would walk faster, but the man caught up to him and a verbal and then a physical conflict ensued before the phone went dead.
This witness is said to be the most important to the prosecution, and her testimony is being used to reinforce much of the evidence against Zimmerman. Defense lawyers may now use her alleged misrepresentations to try to damage her credibility to jurors. State prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda did not indicate whether or not “Witness 8” would be charged with perjury.