Rene Stutzman and Jeff Weiner, Orlando Sentinel
5:19 PM CDT, April 30, 2013
SANFORD — It was a moment of high drama as murder suspect George Zimmerman stood in front of a judge and answered her questions in a calm, clear voice: Yes, he knows he is giving up a chance to spare himself a trial but, no, he does not want a "stand your ground" hearing before that trial begins.
Zimmerman's answers, the centerpiece of a three-hour hearing Tuesday, were interesting but not a revelation nor the most important thing that happened in court.
The meatiest news Tuesday filtered out in small pieces and suggests that when Zimmerman's four- to six-week trial gets underway June 10, the reputation of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old he killed, may be in for a beating.
For example, defense attorney Don West told the judge that signals from Trayvon's cellphone and the towers it "pinged" from shows he traveled "a considerable distance" from the 7-Eleven where he bought Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea and the subdivision where Zimmerman shot him.
And Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda said Miami-Dade school officials had investigated an incident involving Trayvon but decided it was not a crime because they concluded a device they found in his possession was not a weapon.
Exactly what incident de la Rionda was referring to was not clear. Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson cut him off, and de la Rionda would not answer questions after the hearing. But it may be related to several pieces of women's jewelry and a screwdriver described as a burglary tool that The Miami Herald reported school officials found in his backpack.
What the hearing did accomplish was to clear away several pieces of unfinished business. The judge, at the state's request, asked Zimmerman whether he was willing to forgo a "stand your ground" hearing before his second-degree-murder trial.
That's a trial-like hearing that could result in Zimmerman's being absolved of criminal and civil liability.
The defendant's answers Tuesday came as no surprise. On March 5, defense attorney Mark O'Mara essentially told the judge the same thing, saying he did not need two weeks that she had set aside in April for that hearing.
On Tuesday, O'Mara said he might file a motion, requesting "stand your ground" immunity, after the state puts on its last piece of evidence at Zimmerman's trial.
The judge also ruled:
•That Zimmerman would get a copy of a $1 million-plus settlement Trayvon's parents received in a wrongful-death claim against Zimmerman's homeowners association. The public will have to make do with an edited version.
•And that she will decide after the trial whether prosecutors should have to cough up several thousand dollars that defense attorneys say they're due because of time they wasted trying to track down information the state did not disclose.
By May 10, lawyers must have all of their pretrial motions filed, meaning the real fights are about to begin.
The defense has turned up information about Trayvon that may damage his reputation, especially from his cellphone, according to O'Mara. Prosecutors are expected to ask the judge to keep those things from the jury.
Trayvon's family has previously accused people who bring up unflattering things about Trayvon — for example, that he was suspended from school after being caught with an empty marijuana baggie — as guilty of character assassination.
After Tuesday's hearing, family attorney Daryl Parks accused defense attorneys of trying to "smear the Martin family" by demanding information about the wrongful-death settlement.
O'Mara on Tuesday predicted the trial would last four to six weeks, with half of that time spent on jury selection. He again described the case as one of self-defense.
"Trayvon Martin was not profiled because he was black," he said. "George Zimmerman is not a racist. … What happened that night is that George Zimmerman did nothing wrong, that he was attacked by Trayvon Martin."
The hearing ended just after noon, but both sides returned after lunch for a closed-door session on how to conduct jury selection, something expected to be long, complicated and a logistical challenge.
The judge has said she wants to summon 500 potential jurors, far more than the five-story building and parking lot can accommodate.
Copyright © 2014, Orlando Sentinel