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Defense and prosecution spar in George Zimmerman case

October 19, 2012|By Michael Muskal

George Zimmerman, who has been keeping a very low profile, sat impassively in a Florida courtroom as his lawyers on Friday sparred with prosecutors during a hearing on motions -- in effect the opening salvos of what is expected to be months of legal wrangling in the Florida murder case that has raised questions about race and self-defense laws.

Zimmerman faces second-degree murder charges in the shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman, 29, acknowledges that he shot Martin, 17, but argues that he acted in self-defense.

Looking as though he had gained some weight, Zimmerman never spoke during the about 90 minutes of hearing before Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson. The judge granted defense requests to be allowed to subpoena school discipline records for Martin as well as social media records for the teenager and for a girl who has said she was on a cellphone with Martin during the confrontation with Zimmerman.

 PHOTOS: Moments in the Trayvon Martin case

Defense attorney Mark O'Mara argued that the records might give some insight into Martin’s thoughts before the shooting, a position Martin’s family has repeatedly rejected. The family maintains that the defense is just on a fishing expedition designed to attack the teenager.

"The issue in this case is who did what during those couple of minutes that we don't know what happened," O'Mara argued. He said it "sounds horrible" to attack the character of the dead teen, but the records are needed for the defense of Zimmerman, who is been free on bail.

"I think that you're entitled to those records," Nelson said, adding the information should remain private.

But Nelson also gave something to the prosecution, ruling they may have access to Zimmerman’s medical records after she reviews them. She decided that the prosecution can keep the addresses of civilian witnesses in the case private, but must help the defense coordinate depositions.

The parties also argued about whether to seal some documents, an on-going issue in the case that has seemingly fed on publicity. Originally, Zimmerman told police he acted in self-defense and was not charged. It took weeks of protests before a special prosecutor was given the case and charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder.

Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda argued for keeping all defense subpoenas closed in order to avoid tainting the possible jury pool for the trial, now tentatively scheduled for June 10. Nelson said she will review and decide whether to close any documents on a case-by-case basis. “This is an open court, this is a public case,” she said.

 In the courtroom’s audience were Martin’s parent,s who before the hearing again accused the defense of attacking their dead son.

"I feel that Trayvon's school records are not relevant in this case," Trayvon's father Tracy Martin said at a news conference, adding that Zimmerman's medical records "are very relevant in the case."

"It is wrong to subpoena his records on so many levels," said Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump, who called the defense request "the old classic method of attacking the victim."

Nelson also set a aside several dates in forthcoming weeks to hear what are expected to be a variety of motions. Next week, she will hear a prosecution request for a gag order on attorneys. A previous judge on the case had rejected that move.

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