It was a day of denials in a Florida courtroom Tuesday as a judge struck down a number of requests from George Zimmerman’s defense team, primarily one that sought to delay the trial. Florida Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson ruled that Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial would begin on June 10 as originally planned.
In the pre-trial hearing, the prosecution emerged as overwhelming victors as the Zimmerman’s defense team was barred from introducing new evidence that could help their claim that the 29-year-old former Neighborhood Watch captain was acting in self-defense when he fatally shot Trayvon Martin last year during a struggle in a gated community near Orlando. Zimmerman did not attend the hearing, though Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton was present.
Allegations of Trayvon Martin’s marijuana use will not be admissible as evidence in court, nor can autopsy findings of the drug in his system be mentioned in opening statements at the trial. Nelson also ruled that text messages sent by Martin before his Feb. 26, 2012 shooting death cannot be used in court. She also held that Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie — who is set to stand trial for perjury — can be deposed by prosecutors, though she will be allowed to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Nelson spent the morning navigating a lengthy list of issues pertinent to the trial, at times sparring with lead defense attorney Mark O’Mara on motions regarding additional hearings and further postponing the trial start date of June 10. After reiterating that both sides have had ample time to present discovery evidence and hold depositions, she denied O’Mara’s motion to push back the trial, ordering jury selection to begin as scheduled in two weeks.
As for the jury, members are to remain anonymous during the trial and be identified by number, and the court will not sequester the whole jury pool. O’Mara asked that the jury be taken to the scene of the shooting, but Nelson said that because the shooting took place in the early evening in February, the lengthier daylight hours of the summer would be make it a significantly different scene for jurors. Calling it a “logistical nightmare,” Nelson swiftly denied that motion.
In one small victory for the defense, though, Nelson denied the state’s request for a gag order, allowing defense attorneys to speak publicly about the case and trial proceedings. Also, the Miami teen’s history of fights and his school records are allowed to be mentioned outside of opening statements.
Last week Zimmerman’s defense team released photos of Martin from his cell phone that showed what they alleged might be a marijuana plant, a hand holding a gun and a picture of the teen sporting gold teeth while making an obscene hand gesture. Text messages from the device had Martin describing marijuana use, sharing a .380 caliber pistol, and being accused by a teacher of involvement in a fight he was watching.
One of the expected final hearings before the trial is set for Friday when lawyers will discuss the decision to keep jurors anonymous.