Zimmerman jury hears about his studies

2013-07-03 18:45


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Florida - A Florida judge ruled on Wednesday that jurors should hear evidence about volunteer watchman George Zimmerman's criminal justice studies because it was relevant to his murder trial for fatally shooting unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.

Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson overruled strenuous objections from Zimmerman's lead lawyer in ordering that the evidence was admissible, siding with prosecutors in deciding that Zimmerman's education was relevant.

"The court makes the determination that the testimony bears directly on an issue in the case. Therefore the testimony is substantive and the objections are overruled," Nelson said.

Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder, saying he shot Martin in self-defence during their confrontation inside a gated community in the central Florida town of Sanford on 26 February, 2012.

Prosecutors say Zimmerman's choice of classes at Seminole State College, on criminal investigation and witness testimony among other topics, underscored his intense interest in law enforcement and previous interest in becoming a police officer.

One of the first witnesses called after the judge's ruling, Army Captain Alexis Carter, who was a teacher of Zimmerman in a 2010 college class on criminal litigation, testified that he taught about Florida's "Stand Your Ground law".

The prosecution has suggested testimony from Zimmerman's professors would rebut his claim, in an interview with Fox News from last year that was aired in court on Tuesday, that he had no knowledge of the "Stand Your Ground" self-defence law before he shot Martin.

"We have a number of purposes for which this is relevant," said prosecutor Richard Mantei, who argued for the admissibility of the evidence in a pre-trial hearing Wednesday morning.

The evidence would help jurors understand Zimmerman's "state of mind" and "ambitions and frustrations" in the weeks and months leading up to the shooting, Mantei said.

"He had a desire to be an actual police officer," Mantei said.

Cop wannabe

Under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which was approved in 2005 and has now been copied in some form by about 30 other states, people fearing for their lives can use deadly force without having to retreat from a confrontation, even when it is possible.

The controversial statute is central to Zimmerman's defence. It was approved under former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, despite numerous objections from the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association and state law enforcement officials. The National Rifle Association supported the law.

Defence lawyer Mark O'Mara argued Zimmerman's education was totally irrelevant and would only prove his client had "some prior knowledge" of what it was like to want to be a police officer.

"The whole theory of their [the prosecution's] case is that Mr Zimmerman is some 'cop wannabe,'" O'Mara said.

In testimony on Tuesday, the jury heard a medical examiner say Zimmerman suffered "insignificant" injuries in the fight in which he shot and killed Martin, undermining Zimmerman's claim he feared for his life.

Zimmerman, 29, has said Martin, 17, punched him in the face and repeatedly slammed his head into a concrete walkway. Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, could face life in prison if convicted.

The racially charged case captivated much of the United States in 2012. Police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, accepting his story of self-defence and sparking protests.

A special prosecutor later brought the murder charge. The prosecutor accused Zimmerman of profiling Martin and chasing him vigilante-style rather than waiting for police to arrive.

Martin was a student at a Miami-area high school and a guest of one of the housing development's home owners. He was walking back to the home in the rain from a convenience store when Zimmerman spotted him and called police, saying Martin looked suspicious.

During the confrontation between the two, which is still clouded by competing narratives and conflicting witness testimony, Zimmerman shot Martin through the heart with a 9mm Kel-Tec semi-automatic handgun that he was licensed to carry.

Read more on:    trayvon martin  |  us

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