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Nation & World

Judge rejects Zimmerman request for greater freedom

(MCT) ORLANDO, Fla. — George Zimmerman must remain on GPS monitoring and stay in Seminole County as he continues to await trial a judge ruled Tuesday, rejecting the second-degree murder defendant’s latest request for greater freedom.

At a wide-ranging hearing, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson heard argument on an array of issues, including defense requests for greater access to evidence from state and federal investigations into the Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin.

On the bond issue, the defense argued Zimmerman has been well-behaved: Since his current, $1 million bond was put in place, Zimmerman has not violated its terms, a probation officer testified during the hearing.

But defense attorney Mark O’Mara went beyond that, arguing that the evidence also favors his client’s freedom. Pulling out a bloody photograph of Zimmerman’s nose from the night of the shooting, O’Mara said the court must consider “undeniable evidence of innocence” that he said exists in the case.

“The very issue of his innocence is an issue for you to consider,” he said to the judge. O’Mara also argued his client needs to travel to assist his defense, and is not safe in Seminole County, where he has received threats.

However, prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda argued it’s money and publicity — not safety — that the Zimmerman team is after.

“Isn’t the defendant safer if law enforcement knows exactly where he is?” de la Rionda said. “If there are threats, why is he appearing on national television?”

Why does Zimmerman want to travel? De la Rionda made reference to a recently announced plan to send signed thank-you notes to defense-fund donors. “Maybe it’s for autographs,” he said.

After hearing argument, Nelson denied the defense motion.

Zimmerman’s bond has repeatedly been a contested issue in the case. He was granted and released on $150,000 bond soon after his arrest, but that bond was revoked after prosecutors alleged that Zimmerman and his wife had conspired to hide money. Zimmerman’s wife, who testified that she and her husband were broke, was charged with perjury.

Zimmerman was later granted his current $1 million bond.

In addition to the bond decision, Nelson ruled on a slew of motions:

• The state will turn over the original recording of an interview of a girl identified as Trayvon’s girlfriend. The girlfriend, identified as Witness 8, is a key state witness: She says she was on the phone with Trayvon moments before the shooting, and her account largely corroborates the state’s theory.

• Zimmerman may re-depose Sanford police Investigator William Erwin, who the defense says was present when police played 911 audio for Trayvon Martin’s father. Police have said that Tracy Martin denied the cries for help in the audio were those of his son; however, the elder Martin has since disputed the police account.

• The state will alert the defense to any witnesses who say that they believe the cries were those of Zimmerman, who told police after the shooting that he was the one crying for help. However, prosecutors will not be required to tell the Zimmerman team about witnesses who came to the opposite conclusion: that Trayvon was the one yelling.

• The defense can demand additional documents from investigators with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Justice, who are conducting a civil rights probe. However, those agencies will be granted a 20 day window to file a legal challenge to those demands.

• Nelson also denied a motion for additional Florida Department of Law Enforcement records. She told O’Mara to request the documents from the agency himself, and to re-file his motion if the FDLE doesn’t comply.

The case is currently set for trial in June, with hearings expected at least once a month before then. The next court date was tentatively set for Jan. 8.

A hearing is also expected in April for Zimmerman to argue he should be immune from prosecution under Florida’s the controversial “stand your ground” law.


©2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): TEENSLAIN

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