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George Zimmerman seeks new judge in Trayvon Martin case

July 14, 2012|By Laura J. Nelson | This article has been corrected as indicated below
  • George Zimmerman, left, and attorney Don West appear at a recent bond hearing before Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr., whom the defense wants removed from the case.
George Zimmerman, left, and attorney Don West appear at a recent bond hearing… (Joe Burbank / Associate…)

George Zimmerman no longer believes he will get a fair “stand your ground” hearing or fair trial in the Trayvon Martin shooting case, and he has asked the presiding judge to step down, according to a defense motion filed in court.

The request comes a week after Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester, Jr., raised Zimmerman’s bond to $1 million and described Zimmerman as a manipulator who had “flouted the legal system.” He also wrote that Zimmerman appeared to be poised to flee the country with $130,000 in hidden money.

Those comments were “gratuitous, disparaging remarks about Zimmerman’s character,” and the claim that he would flee the country was not based on evidence, attorneys Don West and Mark O’Mara wrote in their motion. They said their client feared the court was biased against him.

Zimmerman faces charges of second-degree murder in the shooting of 17-year-old Martin on Feb. 26. Zimmerman claims self-defense under Florida's "stand your ground" law.

A “stand your ground” hearing would allow Zimmerman to argue his case before a judge with no jury present. Then the judge would decide whether to drop the charges or set a date for trial.

Lester will rule on the motion about whether he should step aside. Prosecutors said they would object to his disqualification, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Under Florida law, a judge generally leaves a case if one of the parties can show that his or her actions, words or background would lead a reasonable person to believe a fair trial would not occur.

Lester would be the second judge to be removed in the Zimmerman trial: Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler stepped aside because of objections that her husband works for a lawyer whom the defense team had considered hiring.

“Under any definition, the defendant has flouted the system,” Lester wrote in last week’s decision, in reference to an initial bond hearing in April when Zimmerman and his wife said they were broke. In fact, the couple had more than $130,000 from a website set up to raise money for his defense, bank records have shown.

Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie, awaits trial on perjury charges related to what she said at the April 20 bond hearing. Both Zimmermans are free on bond. 

[For the record, 2:20 p.m. July 16: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said it was Martin whom the judge had described as manipulator who had “flouted the legal system.”]

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Follow Laura on Twitter. Email: laura.nelson@latimes.com

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