A Florida judge questioned George Zimmerman today on his decision to waive a hearing under the state's "Stand Your Ground" law, which means that he is likely heading for a trial this summer in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.
The pre-trial Stand Your Ground hearing would have given the judge the discretion to free Zimmerman, eliminating the need for a trial. But the validity of a Stand Your Ground defense would be determined solely by a judge. Zimmerman's defense team has decided to put their case before an entire jury.
"We'd much rather have the jury address the issue of criminal liability or lack thereof," Zimmerman's lawyer Mark O'Mara said.
Zimmerman's team hinted it might resurrect the Stand Your Ground immunity hearing during the trial, and it is possible even after it.
Zimmerman spoke in court for the first time in over a year, answering "Yes, your honor" and "No, your honor" to a series of questions from Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson. Nelson was seeking to confirm a decision by Zimmerman's lawyer to invoke the Stand Your Ground defense.
Zimmerman, 29, has pleaded not guilty, claiming he shot Martin, 17, in self defense as the two struggled on the ground for Zimmerman's gun. Martin was killed in February 2012 in Sanford, Fla., where Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch captain.
Ben Crump, a lawyer for the Martin family, said Zimmerman's decision to forego a stand your ground hearing "is very telling."
"We believe the defense's decision to waive a pre-trial hearing and to merge the Stand Your Ground Hearing into the trial is to prevent putting George Zimmerman on the stand and to preclude the public and the potential jury pool from previewing the many inconsistences in George Zimmerman's story," Crump said.
Zimmerman, looking heavier than he did a year ago, has been living in an undisclosed location for the past year, apparently living with a body guard.
As the hearing began, the judge warned both side remain professional, - after the two sides used court motions to batter each other the past few months. Less than two hours later both sides hurled accusations against each other during a hearing in which possible sanctions against the prosecutors for discovery violations were debated.
The defense asserted that Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda had repeatedly withheld evidence about witness 8, believed to have been Trayvon Martin's girlfriend and the last person to speak with Him.
The defense wanted the court to assess sanctions against the prosecution for not immediately notifying them that Witness 8 allegedly lied about her whereabouts during Martin's funeral.
The defense took the unusual tactic of asking one of its own attorneys, Don West, to take the stand to itemize the ways in which the prosecution delayed discovery, clouded certain evidence and in general cost the defense team time and money, which the defense team has said is running short.
"It was completely misleading about the atmosphere during this first interview. It speaks volumes about why she testified the way she did," said West of witness 8.
During the cross examination a clearly infuriated de la Rionda stalked the court, peppering West with questions.
De la Rionda claimed the defense was following conservative social media outlets and looking to them for strategy. He asked West if Witness 8 testimony about the night of Martin's death appeared consistent to which West responded yes.