SANFORD, Fla. — The George Zimmerman second-degree murder case will proceed to trial June 10, after his judge Tuesday denied his defense team’s latest request for a delay.
The ruling was among several important decisions by Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson during a two-hour hearing this morning at the Seminole County Courthouse.
The judge ruled for the state on several key issues: The defense may not bring up Trayvon Martin’s past marijuana use at trial, or his school suspension or alleged participation in fights, without clearing several legal hurdles and another ruling granting permission.
Those rulings come days after Zimmerman’s defense team posted online the photos and text messages gathered from Trayvon’s phone, including texts about being a fighter, smoking marijuana and being ordered to move out of his home by his mother.
The phone also included photos of what appeared to be marijuana plants and a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun, the defense says.
The attorneys also cannot mention during their opening arguments at trial that the active ingredient of marijuana was found in the teen’s system, the judge ruled Tuesday. She also denied the state’s motion for a gag order in the case.
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the 17-year-old’s shooting Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford. Zimmerman says he acted in self-defense. His trial is to begin June 10.
The first issue Nelson decided Tuesday morning was whether Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie Zimmerman, could be forced to participate in a deposition in her husband’s case. The judge ruled that she can be, but can also utilize her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when applicable.
Shellie Zimmerman is charged with perjury, accused of lying about the couple’s finances during a bond hearing for her husband.
Nelson also ruled that the jurors in the case will be referred to by number, not name, in order to protect their identities during trial, and the media is not allowed to photograph them.
The jury will not be allowed to visit the shooting scene, as the defense requested. That would be a “logistical nightmare,” the judge said, and little would be gained by it.
There are still other issues yet to be decided before trial. Zimmerman was not in court for the hearing Tuesday.
One of the most compelling issues the judge must rule on is whether to allow the testimony of a state audio expert, Alan Reich, who says that in the background of a 911 call, he heard Trayvon in distress and in a trembling voice say “I’m begging you,” just before the fatal shot.
The judge said Tuesday she will listen to argument about whether Reich’s work, and the work of other audio experts, meets the necessary scientific standard for admissibility during a hearing June 6.
In a four-page report to prosecutors, Reich wrote that’s what he heard after he cleaned up the now-famous 911 call by a neighbor that has screams in the background. He also wrote that Zimmerman was talking like an evangelist or carnival barker and said early in the recording, “These shall be.”
Analysts at the FBI tried to identify the voice of the person screaming but gave up, saying the recording was too short and the quality too poor.
Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O’Mara has hired an expert, he said earlier, who will testify that the screams were from Zimmerman.
The attorneys will be in court again on Friday, the judge indicated, to argue about whether the jury should be kept anonymous.
The judge also still must address an allegation from Zimmerman’s defense that the state improperly withheld data gathered from Trayvon’s phone.
The defense briefly called a witness to testify on that topic Tuesday: Wesley White, a former assistant state attorney who worked for the special prosecutor in the case, Angela Corey, before resigning disgruntled last year, according to a Jacksonville.com report.
White said that he contacted O’Mara after finding out prosecutors hadn’t turned over data from the phone.