Trayvon Martin case

Zimmerman defense: Prosecutors are dragging their feet

 

Lawyers think prosecutors are deliberately holding back information that helps George Zimmerman

frobles@MiamiHerald.com

George Zimmerman’s defense lawyers say prosecutors are deliberately dragging their feet, and accused the Duval County State Attorney of delaying — and even hiding — evidence that suggests their client is innocent.

It took months and the judge’s intervention for lawyers to get a vivid color copy of Zimmerman’s bloody injuries. The defense didn’t find out about witnesses who had helpful information until recently, and attorneys learned of a police officer’s full role in the case by word of mouth.

Papers filed in Seminole County Court in Sanford accuse prosecutors of withholding exculpatory information by delaying reports and a key audio tape.

The lawyers are asking Seminole Circuit Judge Debra Nelson for help.

“The state should not be allowed to play hide and seek with the evidence,” defense attorney Mark O’Mara wrote.

Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda has not filed a written response in court, and the spokeswoman for his office did not respond to a request for comment.

Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer, is charged with second-degree murder for the Feb. 26 killing of unarmed Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin.

The crime watch volunteer insisted that he was jumped and pummeled by the 17-year-old Michael Krop High School junior, whom Zimmerman had followed after finding him suspicious. Zimmerman told the police that he called for help over and over, but no one came to his aid.

Cries for help were recorded on a 911 call to police, but the origin of those screams has always been in dispute.

An FBI report provided last month to the defense and made public Tuesday shows that at least one of Zimmerman’s neighbors told the FBI that he was absolutely sure it was the former neighborhood watch volunteer who wailed in agony.

The defense lawyers also recently learned second-hand that a Sanford Police officer was present when the 911 tape was played to Trayvon’s father, and the dad said the cries were not his son’s.

But O’Mara said prosecutors did not reveal that information to the defense team, which would be a violation of the rules that govern attorney conduct.

“I’m so used to prosecutors dumping boxes of evidence on me, because most of my clients are obviously guilty of something,” O’Mara said. “I get a case like this, and it’s the opposite. For whatever reason, I have to fight tooth and nail to get what I want. The more discovery I get, the better it is for me.”

In a motion filed Monday, O’Mara asked the judge to let him re-take the deposition of the Sanford officer who allegedly heard Trayvon’s father say the cries did not belong to his son. The officer had already given a sworn statement but was not asked about the incident, because defense lawyers did not know of the officer’s involvement.

Last week, the defense also asked the judge to force Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the dead boy’s family, to turn over an original recording of a conversation he had with a star witness, the last person to speak to Trayvon just moments before he died.

Defense lawyers say the prosecution failed to issue a subpoena for the original recording, and the copy they have is unintelligible. Crump denied stalling, and said he offered to turn it over several times to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“The family can’t control the state’s case against George Zimmerman,” he said. “They are powerless. The only thing they can do is work on their foundation so that some good can come out of their personal holocaust, the loss of their son. They are not focused on anything negative or any distractions.”

Zimmerman’s critics believe the defense tactics are part of a public relations strategy timed to a renewed fundraising drive.

In Miami, civic leaders appear increasingly worried that Zimmerman could be acquitted or have the charges against him dismissed on self-defense grounds.The Community Relations Board on Tuesday announced plans to create a youth advisory board and hold a young people’s summit to address how the community should react if Zimmerman is found not guilty.

When Sanford Police did not arrest Zimmerman for weeks after Trayvon’s death last spring, students at 31 South Florida high schools walked out.

“I think there’s concern he could be acquitted, surely,” said Community Relations board director Amy Carswell. “There are people who would be angry about it. So far they have shown a response that was nonviolent and positive, and we want to keep it that way.”

Read more Zimmerman Case stories from the Miami Herald

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