The team behind accused killer George Zimmerman’s legal defense has announced today that it will seek a hearing on the defendant’s “stand your ground” rights because they believe the evidence in the case shows significant support for his claim of self defense. The move is the latest in the team’s legal strategy and comes a week after Zimmerman’s request for a new judge was denied.
(TIME Topics: Trayvon Martin)
“In the case against George Zimmerman, a ‘Stand Your Ground’ hearing will essentially be a mini-trial,” reads a statement on Zimmerman’s defense team’s website. “Most of the arguments, witnesses, experts, and evidence that the defense would muster in a criminal trial will be presented in the ‘Stand Your Ground’ hearing.”
Zimmerman, 28, is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Miami teen Trayvon Martin, 17, who was killed while walking through a gated community in Sanford, Fla., while on a visit with his father. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, has maintained that Martin attacked him and that he feared for his life. Prosecutors say that Zimmerman confronted Martin instead of heeding a dispatcher’s advice that they did not need him to pursue the teen.
In a hearing, the burden of proof would be on the defense, rather than the prosecution, to show that Zimmerman’s self-defense claim falls within the guidelines of Florida‘s controversial “Stand Your Ground” statute. The legal team, led by attorney Mark O’Mara, will need to argue that Zimmerman had a reason to believe that he needed to use a weapon to prevent himself from being seriously harmed by Martin in order to qualify for the law’s protection. The law also says that a person who finds himself in such a situation has no duty to retreat. If O’Mara successfully argues that Zimmerman found it necessary to shoot Martin, Judge Kenneth Lester can dismiss the charges and make Zimmerman immune from any civil actions connected with the case.
Evidence recently made public by the prosecution provides enough foundation for the hearing, Zimmerman’s lawyers say, but they also believe it will be several months before such a hearing could take place. “It will take time to collect and submit reciprocal discovery, depose witnesses and experts, and identify evidence to be submitted during the hearing,” the defense website says.
Martin’s family’s lawyer Benjamin Crump, responding to the development through a statement on a website set up by the family said the case should be decided by a jury and that many of the experts behind the “Stand Your Ground” law have said Zimmerman’s claims do not apply under the statute.
“We believe that the killer’s motion will be denied during the ‘Stand Your Ground’ hearing, and as justice requires a jury will ultimately decide the fate of a man that killed an innocent child,” Crump said. “Trayvon’s parents do not feel that this is a man that feared for his life the night he shot and killed their child, this is a man whose only fear is spending his life in prison.
Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has released a new discovery given to them by Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, including evidence submissions, Zimmerman’s application to the Seminole County Sherrif’s Office Academy, photos of his injuries on the night of the shooting and Martin’s father Tracy’s call to 911.
Zimmerman was released on $1 million bail last month and remains free. The case is scheduled for an Oct. 3 docket sounding, at which time a trial date would be set; although by most accounts a trial is not likely to begin before the end of the year.