When the George Zimmerman trial begins next month, jurors, at least initially, won’t hear about Trayvon Martin as a pot-smoking would-be thug who brawled, sought out guns and got suspended from school.
A judge on Tuesday ruled that Zimmerman’s lawyers won’t be allowed to present in opening statements Trayvon’s tough-talking text messages and social media posts, nor any discussion of his marijuana use — part of a defense strategy to shred the character of the Miami Gardens teen slain last year in Sanford.
Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson’s decision Tuesday came during a quick-moving hearing in which she delivered a series of pre-trial victories to prosecutors.
She also denied Zimmerman’s request to delay the trial, and sequester hundreds of potential jurors when trial jury selection begins June 10.
The attorney for Trayvon’s family, Benjamin Crump, speaking to media outside the courthouse, hailed 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.”
Zimmerman is set for trial for the killing of Trayvon, an unarmed teen whose death captured worldwide headlines, spurred racial tension and sparked scrutiny of Florida’s self-defense law.
Trayvon is African American, while Zimmerman is part Hispanic.
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara told reporters that he was happy with the judge’s rulings but suggested that the information about Trayvon’s past can still “become relevant” for jurors if prosecutors present evidence beyond the five-minute encounter between Trayvon and Zimmerman.
“The Martin family, through their handlers, presented a picture of who Trayvon was, and who George was, that is totally inaccurate,” O’Mara told reporters after the hearing.
In February 2012, Trayvon had traveled to stay in Sanford, just north of Orlando, with his father following a suspension from school.
A self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman, Zimmerman shot and killed the 17-year-old Trayvon during a confrontation in a gated community.
He was not initially charged after claiming he acted in self-defense.
Prosecutors later charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder. He claims that Trayvon, while suspiciously loitering in the housing community, attacked him and during a life-or-death struggle, he had no choice but to pull his pistol and shoot the teen.
Last week, Zimmerman’s defense team released text messages and photos obtained by prosecutors from Trayvon’s cellphone. In the messages, he talks about getting in fights and his suspension from school. The messages also indicate he was interested in trying to buy a firearm.
“His familiarity with guns, seeking to purchase guns, ongoing fighting, use of drugs, looking to buy drugs all fit in squarely” with Zimmerman claiming he no choice but to act in self-defense, O’Mara told the judge.
Zimmerman’s defense lawyers also said Trayvon’s past marijuana use, or perhaps withdrawal from chronic use of the drug, may have sparked the teen’s aggression.
“We have a lot of evidence that marijuana use had something to do with the event,” O’Mara said, pointing out that Zimmerman called 911 to report a prowler who appeared to be on drugs, and convenience store footage showed the teen “swaying” while buying candy shortly before the shooting.