In a huge victory for the prosecution and the Trayvon Martin family, Judge Debra Nelson ruled that the defense team in George Zimmerman’s murder trial can not mention Martin’s school records, past fights, marijuana use, ownership of gold teeth, or any photos or text messages found on his phone.
She also ruled that the second-degree murder case will proceed to trial June 10, denying the defense team’s latest request for a delay.
As for the efforts by Zimmerman’s team to bring up Martin’s personal issues during the trial, Nelson said she reserves the right to change the ruling during the trial if lawyers open the door to such issues. But she said that she can’t imagine how any of the issues would be relevant to the trial.
Benjamin Crump, lawyer for Martin’s family, said the Zimmerman team was trying to sway potential jury members by releasing incriminating information about teenager that the lawyers knew wouldn’t be admitted.
“Most lawyers knew this evidence was inadmissible,” he said of the text messages, photos, and school record. “We have to not let people get away with polluting the jury.”
During the two-hour hearing, Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, told the judge that Trayvon’s marijuana use and past fighting was central to the argument that Zimmerman used self-defense when he confronted the boy 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.”
But Nelson wouldn’t buy his arguments about the relevance. Nelson also ruled a toxicology test showing that Martin had marijuana in his system at the time of his death could not be discussed during opening statements.
She ruled against a defense request that the pool of jury candidates be sequestered during jury selection, and she denied a prosecution request for a gag order that would prohibit attorneys from talking about the case.
Last week Zimmerman’s defense team stepped up their attempts to portray Martin as troubled and violent by releasing photos and text messages that show the 17-year-old with gold teeth and engaged in discussions about marijuana and guns.
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.