“Self-appointed neighborhood watch captain”
Murder suspect George Zimmerman’s defense team wants these “inflammatory terms” banned from the opening statements of his trial. Jury selection begins on Monday.
“Some of these terms are disparaging, inappropriate, and if used in trial would serve only to unfairly prejudice the jury by eliciting unfounded connotations and unfair emotional responses,” defense attorney Mark O’Mara wrote in a motion to the court.
Prosecutors say Zimmerman, a volunteer crime watchman in his Sanford, Fla., neighborhood, profiled, pursued and fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012. Zimmerman, a licensed gun carrier and part-time criminal justice student, says he fired in self-defense after being attacked and beaten.
The request also asks that prosecutors be prohibited from using these phrases during opening statements:
“He got out of the car after the police (or dispatcher) told him not to.”
“He confronted Trayvon Martin.”
Motions seeking to limit evidence in a trial is not uncommon, but they seldom target phrases or characterizations.
“They are trying to head off anything that would already suggest to the jury that this guy is indeed guilty and you have not even heard the evidence yet,” said John Teakell, a veteran Texas defense attorney. “It’s a good move by the defense, and I can understand why they did it given all the publicity.”
Judge Debra S. Nelson has not yet ruled on the “inflammatory terms” motion. She recently ruled defense lawyers, in their opening statements, would not be permitted to mention pictures of drugs and guns found on Martin's cellphone.
Earlier on Thursday, Judge Nelson did turn down a separate defense request to let some witnesses testify out of the public eye. O'Mara said the witnesses are worried about their safety.
Zimmerman, 29, could face life in prison if convicted.