George Zimmerman’s attorneys stunned court observers Tuesday when they waived their client’s right to a “Stand Your Ground” hearing slated for April that might have led to a dismissal of the charges in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin a year ago.
However, the defense lawyers didn’t say whether they would waive the immunity hearing outright. They left open the possibility for that hearing to be rolled into Zimmerman’s second degree murder trial. Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch captain in his Florida subdivision, shot and killed the teen, who was visiting a house in the area.
The move allows the defense more time to prepare for the trial this summer, but also raises the stakes.
Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law entitles a person to use deadly force if he believes his life is threatened, and absolves them of an obligation to retreat from a confrontation, even if retreat is possible.
In recent weeks, the Zimmerman defense has suffered several legal setbacks. Judge Debra Nelson has ruled in favor of the state that Zimmerman’s bail conditions should not be loosened, and that Trayvon Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump was not required to sit for a deposition about his interactions with the state’s most important witness, a young woman who was the last known person to speak with Trayvon Martin before his death on February 26 2012.
It was the defense’s legal maneuvering which put Judge Nelson on the bench in this murder trial. Last summer Zimmerman’s team successfully argued that the previous judge, Kenneth Lester, was unfit to preside over the trial after a caustic bail ruling where he blasted Zimmerman for misleading the court about his financial situation.
Zimmerman contends that he shot and killed the 17-year-old Martin after the teen confronted him as he walked to his father’s girlfriend’s house. Were Judge Nelson to have accepted his account under Stand Your Ground, all criminal proceedings would have immediately stopped, and Zimmerman would have walked free.
But another unfavorable ruling by Nelson could have been interpreted by jurors as a sign of guilt. Waiving the hearing could also prevent the prosecution from picking apart Zimmerman’s testimony.
Before the April hearing was waived, Zimmerman’s defense set out to attack the credibility of witness 8, arguably the key witness in the upcoming trial.
Defense attorney Donald West asked the court for more information about the allegedly false account she gave attorneys. According to records obtained by ABC News she was on the phone with Martin as his confrontation with Zimmerman began. She claims he told her that he was scared of a strange man following him.
The state admitted that witness 8 lied when she stated that she did not attend Martin’s funeral because of a medical issue and that there are no medical records to support that claim. The defense wanted Nelson to question prosecutors about how they first learned that this claim was not true, but Nelson refused.
The defense also asked for law enforecement biographies of both Zimmerman and Martin, in particular Martin’s social media history. “It’s time and money to get some of the information here and we are running out of both,” said West.
In an earlier hearing the judge ruled that Zimmerman’s defense could subpoena Martin’s social media history but the undertaking is timely and expensive. Authorities agreed to hand over the documents to the judge so that she could review them and determine if the defense should have them.