The latest chapter of the George Zimmerman murder trial cut off the prologue Tuesday, as Zimmerman and his attorneys appeared in court to waive his right to seek an immunity hearing under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law — and keep the rest of their strategy close to the vest. For better or worse, that means Zimmerman's fate in the killing of Trayvon Martin will likely be put in the hands of 12 jurors beginning June 10, when one of the most emotional trials in recent American history will begin. "Under questioning from Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, Zimmerman repeatedly said 'yes' to a series of questions asking if he was aware he was giving up the right to a hearing before his second-degree murder trial in June," reported the AP.
The baseline takeaway of that, in plain English, is that Zimmerman and his team now think their best strategy is to test his case against a jury — rather than trying a desperate attempt to get all charges dropped. CBS reports:
Florida's so-called "stand your ground" law allows someone to use deadly force, instead of retreating, if they believe their life is in danger. A "stand your ground" hearing could have led to the dismissal of charges if Zimmerman conclusively showed that he fatally shot Martin because he "reasonably believed" he might be killed or suffer "great bodily harm" at the hands of the unarmed teenager.
That hearing would have been a bench trial, and one judge would have determined Zimmerman's immunity.
So why didn't he want to try that option? It could mean that his attorneys didn't think he was going to win that trial, even though the feel-bad-for-George strategy hasn't exactly been winning Zimmerman any fans. (This jury selection could take a while.) Or it could have been that the pre-trial immunity hearing would have forced Zimmerman to testify, opening himself up to cross-examination before the murder trial — something that his attorneys didn't want to risk.
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But the pre-trial immunity hearing would have placed all the work on Zimmerman's attorneys — and might have revealed their under-wraps evidence before this summer's all-eyes murder trial. "By waiting until trial, O'Mara keeps his strategy and potential surprise evidence to himself and enters a legal arena where the burden is now on the prosecution since Zimmerman is presumed innocent at trial," writes Yamiche Alcindor at USA Today. And though Zimmerman waived his pre-trial immunity rights, it doesn't mean that the door is shut on an acquittal. A legal expert told Alcindor:
O'Mara will have two opportunities during trial to ask for a "judgment of acquittal," where the judge can decide to acquit Zimmerman without the jury, Reep said. O'Mara can ask when the prosecution rests and when the defense rests but such acquittals don't happen often.