May 28, 2013 -- Lawyers for George Zimmerman will not be permitted to mention pictures of drugs and guns found on Trayvon Martin's cell phone during opening statements in Zimmerman's trial for murder next month, a judge ruled today.
At a hearing today in Sanford, Fla., Circuit Judge Debra Nelson set some of the rules for what will be a closely watched trial scheduled to begin on June 10. Among a barrage of rulings by the judge today was a rejection of a request by Zimmerman's legal team to delay the trial.
Zimmerman, 29, is the neighborhood watch captain who is accused of fatally shooting Martin, 17, last February. He is charged with second degree murder and has pleaded not guilty.
Zimmerman's lawyer argued that Martin's marijuana use and history of fighting was central to proving that Zimmerman acted in self-defense.
"We have a lot of evidence that marijuana use had something to do with the event," Zimmerman's lawyer Mark O'Mara said. "It could have affected his behavior."
Nelson said that evidence would not be permitted in opening statements, but left open the possibility it could eventually be submitted during the trial.
The judge's decision comes days after Zimmerman's lawyers made public the contents of Martin's phone, including pictures of marijuana leaves, a .40-caliber hand gun, and a photo that appears to show Martin smoking pot.
The defense also posted online, texts Martin sent about getting into fights and being kicked out of his house by his mother.
"Those text messages relate to issues I think will be relevant, pot use, guns, violence, fighting," O'Mara said a press conference following the hearing.
O'Mara said the evidence was essential to combat an early narrative of the case reported by the media .
"Public opinion was swayed by a false presentation of this case from the beginning," he said. "The Martin family, through their handlers, presented a picture of who Trayvon was and who George was that is wholly inaccurate."
O'Mara also requested that all potential jurors, as many as 500 of them, be sequestered in hotels until a panel was selected for the trial.
He acknowledged the difficulty in granting the request, calling it an "absurd expense" but said it was necessary to guarantee a fair trial for his client.
Scott Ponce, a lawyer representing media covering the trial, called the request a "sequestered jury on steroids" and asked the judge to permit the media to cover jury selection in open court.
Nelson denied the request to sequester the entire panel of potential jurors, but has yet to rule on whether the actual jury will be sequestered.
However, the judge ruled to keep the identity of jurors and potential jurors private, referring to them only by an assigned number and prohibiting the press from photographing their faces.
O'Mara also asked that the entire jury be taken to the crime scene in a bus with "blacked out windows."
The defense objected to the motion, arguing that there was no way to recreate the exact lighting and weather conditions at the scene of the crime.
Nelson rejected that motion as well. She called the idea of taking a jury that is suppose to remain anonymous out into public was "a logistical nightmare" and warned that neighbors could photograph jurors with their cell phones, or the press could monitor them with helicopters.
The judge also ruled that Zimmerman's wife Shellie Zimmerman could be called by the prosecution to testify. However, the judge said, Shellie Zimmerman could plead the fifth if she were compelled to take the stand.
Given the scrutiny the case has received, the judge said witnesses could not be asked whether they believed Zimmerman's prosecution was politically motivated.
Another hearing to determine which scientific evidence, including information about the texts and photos found on Martin's phone, will be admissible is scheduled for June 6. The trial is scheduled to begin June 10