George Zimmerman’s defense team stepped up their attempts to portray slain teen Trayvon Martin as troubled and violent, releasing photos and text messages that show the 17-year-old with gold teeth and engaged in discussions about marijuana and guns.
Judge Debra Nelson will decide at a pretrial hearing Tuesday whether a jury will be allowed to see the damaging texts and unflattering photographs and to learn of his marijuana use and school suspension.
The trial is scheduled to begin on June 10.
Zimmerman’s team, led by Mark O’Mara, is trying to paint a picture of a teen with a propensity for violence to help the claim that Zimmerman was acting in self-defense when he shot Martin in the chest and killed him in February 2012. Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda is urging the judge to keep the material out of the trial, claiming it is irrelevant.
Nelson also will decide whether the jury will be sequestered.
The text messages cover a period from November 2011 to February 2012. Martin tells a friend he had been suspended from school for cutting classes and that his mother had “kicked” him out of the house and told him to move in with his father.
In one message, the 17-year-old described himself as “gangsta”—which may sound incriminating unless one is familiar with the term used frequently in African-American culture, by everyone from soccer moms to bestselling authors, as a synonym for bold or tough. In other text messages, Martin discusses being involved in fights and talks about a .380 pistol.
“U gotta gun?” he asked his friend on Feb. 18, 2012. His friend replied, “It my mommy but she buy for me.”
“She let u hold it?” Martin asked. “Yea,” the friend replied. “But she keep it,” Martin said. “Yea,” the friend texted back.
Martin also texted that he smoked marijuana and said he had it wrapped up for the bus ride from Miami, where he lived, to Orlando, where he was going to stay with his father during his suspension from school in February 2012.
The Zimmerman team also released 25 photos from Martin’s cell phone including pictures of a semiautomatic pistol and ammunition. In another photo, Martin appears to be making an obscene gesture while displaying his gold teeth.
It is clear that O’Mara, in posting the information online, is offering the large contingent of Zimmerman supporters an alternate image of the teenager as a bad person who could be capable of violence.
But it is hard to reconcile those attempts with the facts of what happened on that February night.
Zimmerman had no knowledge of Martin’s text messages, pictures wearing gold teeth or fascination with guns when he decided to follow him in the Sanford, Fla., subdivision because he looked “suspicious,” ultimately leading to the confrontation that caused Zimmerman to pull the trigger and blast Martin in the chest.
Benjamin Crump, the lawyer for the Martin family who will have no role in the trial, said the new evidence should be deemed “irrelevant.”
“Is the defense trying to prove Trayvon deserved to be killed by George Zimmerman because (of) the way he looked?” Crump said in a statement released Thursday. “If so, this stereotypical and closed-minded thinking is the same mindset that caused George Zimmerman to get out of his car and pursue Trayvon, an unarmed kid who he didn’t know. The pretrial release of these irrelevant red herrings is a desperate and pathetic attempt by the defense to pollute and sway the jury pool.”
Bob Dekle, who teaches law at the University of Florida, told the Christian Science Monitor that the evidence was unlikely to be shown to the jury.
“On a plea of self-defense, you can sometimes get into evidence of prior violent acts or character of the deceased … but saying something about fist fights in high school? Kids get into fist fights at school. I did, and I don’t think that made me someone that needed to be shot,” he said.