Judge rules out defense animation, texts in Zimmerman murder trial
A defense animation depicting the fight between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman will not be shown as evidence to the jury considering murder charges against the neighborhood watch volunteer, the judge in the case ruled Wednesday.
Judge Debra S. Nelson also ruled against a defense motion to admit cellphone texts on fighting. The defense argued that the texts -- which it argued were sent by Martin -- showed that the teenager had some interest in fighting and physical prowess.
The rulings come as the defense is preparing to rest its case, paving the way for jury deliberations to begin this week. Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder but says he shot the unarmed Martin, 17, in self-defense during a confrontation on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla. The prosecution argues that Zimmerman profiled, followed and then killed Martin.
The trial, which began a month ago with jury selection, has been marked by sharp differences between the prosecution and defense over what exactly happened that night that led to the altercation. The animation was the defense’s version of events.
During the hearing on the defense motions, which began Tuesday morning and resumed in the evening, Nelson appeared concerned about the veracity of the reconstruction. On Wednesday, she ruled that the animation could be used by the defense during closing arguments but that it would not be allowed to go into the jury room as evidence.
“To have an animation go back into jury room that they can play over and over again gives a certain weight to something that this court isn’t exactly certain comports with the evidence presented at trial,” Nelson said.
The evening portion of the hearing lasted until about 10 p.m. with the jury out of the courtroom. Tensions grew sharp as the debate over the two issues went on.
After hours of arguments, Nelson said that just because the text messages on fighting had come from a phone used by Martin -- but whose account is not in Martin’s name -- there was no way to prove the teenager had written them.
“People have children who pick up their phones and play with them,” she told clearly infuriated defense attorney Don West. “I don’t have any identifying marks that these text messages are created by or sent by Mr. Martin.”
West countered that the phone was password-protected and that Martin was known to use the phone, and then argued that if the state had handed over the information from the phone earlier, the defense could have done more to link the messages to Martin by, perhaps, tracking down the people he had chatted with in the messages.
“It’s simply unfair for Mr. Zimmerman not to be able to put on his defense because of the state’s tactics,” West said, going on to accuse prosecutors of lying about information they had in their possession.
Prosecutor Richard Mantei then stood up and demanded an apology. Nelson ordered them all to come back at 8 a.m., at which point defense attorney Mark O’Mara indicated that it was too late in the day to get his first witness ready for that early on Wednesday. Dennis Root, an expert on deadly force, was the first defense witness to take the stand on Wednesday.
West complained that the pace of Tuesday’s proceedings, which lasted about 13 hours, was too grueling. He said he was “unable to physically keep up.”
As he complained, Nelson gathered up her papers and walked out of the courtroom.
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