Zimmerman's Lawyers Ignore the Law to Paint Trayvon as a Brawling Pot Head

Alexander Abad-Santos
The Atlantic Wire
Zimmerman's Lawyers Ignore the Law to Paint Trayvon as a Brawling Pot Head

With less than two weeks until George Zimmerman goes on trial for second-degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin, the judge in his case ruled Tuesday that that some of his defense team's key evidence — including Martin's history of "violence" and marijuana use — will not be allowed in court. But the way George Zimmerman's defense team has been handling things, well, they're making sure to leak enough that the jury is aware of every last absurd detail about Trayvon Martin anyway.

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The pre-trial hearing dealt with a number of defense requests — Zimmerman's motion to delay was denied, and the trial will begin June 10 — but the defense lost almost all of them. The Orlando Sentinel's Jeff Weiner has the play-by-play on Judge Debra S. Nelson's key decisions: 

The judge already has ruled this morning on several key issues: The defense may not bring up Trayvon Martin's past marijuana use at trial, or his past school suspensions or participation in fights, without clearing several legal hurdles and another ruling granting permission.

    The attorneys also cannot mention during their opening arguments that the active ingredient of marijuana was found in the teen's system, the judge ruled.

    Zimmerman's defense team has long sought to establish that Martin may have been high and that his judgment may have been impaired on February 26, 2012 — the night he was shot and killed after buying some Skittles. "We have a lot of evidence that marijuana use had something to do with the event," Zimmerman's lead attorney, Mark O'Mara, said during today's pretrial hearing. "It could have affected his behavior." 

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    O'Mara also wanted to make it (very well) known to the jury (no matter what the judge says they're supposed to pay attention to) that Martin was suspended at his school and has been in fights before. It's all about establishing Martin as a violent kid, to establish that Zimmerman was acting in self-defense — and it's all part of a great-bodily-harm, feel-bad-for-George strategy that has been playing out in the media and on social media for months... and that should show up in opening arguments on Day One of the trial. (His brother issued an impassioned statement outside the courtroom late this morning about how Zimmerman supported him when he came out of the closet.) 

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    The Sentinel's Weiner adds that other pieces of personal information will remain blocked from the jury — officially, anyway:

    Judge rules #TrayvonMartin's screen names aren't coming into trial unless they pass several legal hurdles. #GeorgeZimmerman

    — Jeff Weiner (@JeffWeinerOS) May 28, 2013

    Some of Martin's screen names and at least one message on Twitter, as The Daily Caller will tell you — complete with middle-finger photo, and a lack of confirmation leading to "significant evidence" — could be interpreted as, you know, sending a tweet about shooting. And while Judge Nelson has now blocked these components from the trial, that might not be as big of a blow to the defense as it seems. Sure, O'Mara and Co. won't be able to reiterate these arguments in front of a live jury, but the seeds of a violent, middle-finger-wielding teenager have been sown. A big effort now will be to make sure jury selection hones in on a truly unbiased jury — as in one that doesn't read the Sentinel, or Twitter, and wants to focus on the events of that night, rather than a character study, as Judge Nelson is setting up the trial to play out. On Tuesday, Nelson also granted a defense motion to keep potential and actual members of the jury anonymous, though "other issues" pertaining to the jury will be dealt with in two weeks time.

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    O'Mara and the rest of Zimmerman's defense team have, of course, been leaking "evidence" — even though it's no longer allowed to be evidence — like wildfire. Perhaps most prominent have been text messages sent by Martin that paint a picture of him as a kind of bully who got into a fight, which were picked up by the Sentinel, among other outlets:

    On Nov. 22, 2011, three months before the shooting, Trayvon wrote about being involved in a fight. His unnamed opponent, he wrote, "got mo hits cause in da 1st round he had me on da ground an I couldn't do ntn."

    Six weeks earlier he wrote a text message about problems at school involving a fight: "I was watcn a fight nd a teacher say I hit em."

    Of course, texts are texts, tweets are tweets, weed is weed, and teenagers are teenagers. But killing is killing. Which is why prosecutors argued — successfully — that the "hearsay statements" are not admissible, and neither is a toxicology report about marijuana in this particular dead teenager's body.

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    But the sordid, sideways history of Trayvon Martin is out there, and everybody knows it. That, likely, was the defense's plan all along. The Martin family, in a statement last week, called the leaks "a desperate and pathetic attempt by the defense to pollute and sway the jury pool." Two Mondays from now, we'll begin to see if it worked.