SANFORD, Fla. - A judge ruled Friday that attorneys for a Florida neighbourhood watch volunteer can inspect the school records and social media postings of the unarmed teenager he is accused of murdering.
Judge Debra S. Nelson said that defendant George Zimmerman's attorneys need to know whether Trayvon Martin's school records and social media postings give any evidence that he had violent tendencies.
The 29-year-old Zimmerman fatally shot the 17-year-old Martin in February. Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, saying he shot Martin in self-defence. He was present Friday, his first appearance in public since his July bond hearing. He and his wife, Shellie, remain in hiding somewhere in Seminole County because of safety concerns.
The judge said she would review Zimmerman's medical records to see if they should be turned over to prosecutors. Nelson set another hearing for Oct. 26.
She will also take up an emergency motion filed Thursday by defence attorney Mark O'Mara that asks the court to grant depositions of several Sanford police officers, including former Chief Bill Lee.
In Nelson's first full hearing since taking over the case in late August, she held attorneys from both sides to short arguments before conveying her rulings. She warned them about bickering with each other.
"I'm glad to have some of the discovery issues resolved. Now we can move forward," defence attorney Mark O'Mara said afterwards.
A message left with a spokesperson for the state attorney seeking comment was not immediately returned.
In regards to the emergency motion, O'Mara said in the filing he that he learned during a recent deposition of police Sgt. Joseph Santiago that investigators held several meetings in the weeks after the shooting and reached a consensus that Zimmerman should not be charged with a crime.
O'Mara contends that information was only learned through a question during the deposition of Santiago and that the state never disclosed the existence of the meetings or what was discussed during them.
"If all those witnesses had a similar opinion, I'm very concerned of what the basis for the prosecution is," O'Mara said. "We certainly now have a lot more to look into. I didn't know we'd be going down this path. Now it's been opened up to us, we're going to investigate it to wherever it leads us."
The judge has scheduled Zimmerman's trial for next June. A hearing on Zimmerman's self-defence claim has not been scheduled, though O'Mara said this week that it could be in April or May.
Nelson ruled that the defence can subpoena the Twitter and Facebook accounts of Martin under case law: Because Zimmerman is making a self-defence claim, any evidence that supports possible aggressive tendencies by Martin is valid.
O'Mara said he has heard "anecdotal evidence" that the 17-year-old Martin had been involved in mixed martial arts fighting.
Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Martin's parents, said they didn't think his social media activity before the shooting was valid, but they don't have any fear of it being revealed.
"Trayvon Martin died because George Zimmerman profiled him as a criminal-minded young punk under the guise of protecting his neighbourhood," Crump said in a statement to The Associated Press. "Now Trayvon Martin is being profiled again as a MMA-loving, violent thug under the guise of pursuing justice. This has to stop. Profiling, like racism and sexism, has no place in the criminal justice system."
The judge ordered Crump to turn over a recording of a phone interview he conducted with Martin's girlfriend, who was talking with him in the moments before his altercation with Zimmerman.
Crump conducted an interview with this witness — known only as Witness 8 — in the weeks after the February shooting. Zimmerman's lawyers also will get to depose Crump and his associates about the chain of custody of that interview, of which the prosecution already has a copy.
Crump said he would co-operate with the judge's request in full with the hope of speeding up the process for Martin's parents.
"They are just very enthusiastic that the judge has set a trial date," Crump said. "They don't want an eye for an eye ... Simple justice is all they want so they can move on."
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