Sanford, Fla. • Attorneys won’t be able to mention Trayvon Martin’s drug use, suspension from school and past fighting during opening statements at the trial of a former neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot the teen, a judge ruled Tuesday.
However, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson left open the possibility that the defense could try again later during the trial if it could show relevance.
George Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the 17-year-old’s killing and has pleaded not guilty, saying he acted in self-defense. He did not attend Tuesday’s hearing.
In another key motion Nelson refused to allow jurors to travel to the shooting scene during trial, and rejected a defense request to delay the trial set to begin June 10.
The judge called the request to let jurors see the crime scene "a logistical nightmare."
Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, said Nelson’s decisions would not affect how he presented his case.
"We were hoping that we would have some limitations on people commenting upon information that is not yet relevant," O’Mara said. "So the idea that the state will have to be careful about how they present their case — and certainly we’re going be careful about how we present ours — is exactly what we were hoping for."
He acknowledged, however, that with the judge not delaying the trial the defense would "have a lot more work to do than we can get accomplished between now and June 10."
The judge also ruled that some of the Martin’s texts and other social media statements won’t be allowed in opening statements, though it, too, could be allowed later with a ruling from the judge depending on how the case progresses.
O’Mara told the judge that Martin’s marijuana use and past fighting was central to the argument that Zimmerman used self-defense when he confronted Martin last year at a gated community in Sanford, Fla.
"We have a lot of evidence that marijuana use had something to do with the event," O’Mara said. "It could have affected his behavior."
An attorney for Martin’s family, Benjamin Crump, said the teen’s parents were pleased with the judge’s rulings on information they consider immaterial to the February 2012 shooting.
"Trayvon Martin is not on trial," Crump said.
The judge ruled against a defense request that the pool of 500 jury candidates be sequestered during jury selection. She said jurors will be referred to by their jury numbers and prohibited their faces from being photographed. Nelson denied a prosecution request for a gag order that would prohibit attorneys from talking about the case.
O’Mara said he is concerned potential jurors could be affected by publicity the case is receiving.
The defense attorney had asked to push back the trial date because he said prosecutors had delayed turning over evidence as required. O’Mara is seeking sanctions against prosecutors, but a hearing on those sanctions was delayed until next week.
Before the judge decided to postpone the hearing on sanctions, a former prosecutor who used to work in the same office as the attorneys prosecuting Zimmerman testified he had told O’Mara about photos and text messages from Martin’s cell phone that hadn’t yet been turned over to the defense.
Former Assistant State Attorney Wesley White resigned last year from the State Attorney’s Office that covers northeast Florida.
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