Zimmerman will seek 'stand your ground' hearing
George Zimmerman, left, and attorney Don West appear before Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester, Jr. during a bond hearing at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center in Sanford, Fla., Friday, June 29, 2012. (AP / Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank)
Published Thursday, August 9, 2012 1:01PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 9, 2012 8:59PM EDT
MIAMI -- The former neighbourhood watch volunteer charged in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen that led to national protests will try to have the murder charge dismissed under Florida's "stand your ground" self-defence law, his attorney said Thursday.
George Zimmerman shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin after a confrontation in Zimmerman's gated community, where Martin was visiting. The case drew anger because Zimmerman was not arrested for weeks after the shooting.
The hearing, which likely won't take place for several months, will amount to a mini-trial involving much of the evidence collected by prosecutors as well as expert testimony from both sides.
"Most of the arguments, witnesses, experts and evidence that the defence would muster in a criminal trial will be presented in the 'stand your ground' hearing," said the statement posted by Zimmerman attorney Mark O'Mara on Zimmerman's official defencewebsite.
Although the posting did not say so, legal experts say it's likely that Zimmerman himself would testify since he is the sole survivor of the Feb. 26 confrontation.
Under the "stand your ground" law, Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester can dismiss the charges if Zimmerman conclusively shows he fatally shot Martin because he "reasonably believed" he might be killed or suffer "great bodily harm" at the hands of the unarmed teenager. The law also says a person has no duty to retreat in the face of such a threat.
Janet Johnson, a Jacksonville defence attorney who has represented defendants in other "stand your ground" cases, said Zimmerman has a good chance to win his claim if he can also show he was in a place where he had a legal right to be and that he didn't create the danger.
"Or, if he did, he had abandoned that activity when Mr. Martin 'attacked' him," Johnson said in an email. "There's only one side since Trayvon Martin can't testify."
Evidence released by prosecutors, the website statement said, shows "clear support for a strong claim of self-defence." The statement urged "everyone to be patient during this process and to reserve judgment until the evidence is presented in the 'stand your ground' hearing."
Prosecutors released 76 pages of additional evidence Thursday, mostly consisting of Zimmerman's community college school records. But they also released a grainy photograph that they described as "depicting the killing of a person," presumably Martin. In a subsequent email, they asked news media to not use the photo, which they said due to its content is exempt from the state's public records law. The extremely dark, poor-quality photo shows a small, unrecognizable shape at the centre of the frame.
Martin's parents have contended that Zimmerman singled out their son as he was returning from a convenience store because he was black and that it was Zimmerman's aggression that led to his death.
Zimmerman, who is free on $1 million bail, faces a possible life prison sentence if convicted of second-degree murder.
If his "stand your ground" claim succeeds, however, the criminal charge would be dismissed and Zimmerman could not be held liable in any civil action such as a wrongful death lawsuit. Prosecutors would likely appeal a successful self-defence claim.
A spokeswoman for special prosecutor Angela Corey declined comment Thursday. An attorney for Martin's parents did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.