Defense attorneys for George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer accused of second degree murder in the shooting death of Miami teen Trayvon Martin, won a legal victory this week by convincing an appeals court to replace the trial judge for a second time due to fears of judicial bias.
Deborah S. Nelson, 58, a veteran justice appointed to the bench in 1999 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, will replace Justice Kenneth Lester after he was ordered Wednesday to step aside by the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach, Fla., the Orlando Sentinel reported. A three-judge panel ruled that Lester made “gratuitous, disparaging remarks” about Zimmerman in during the defendant’s $1 million bond hearing and that he advocated for his further criminal prosecution.
Lester, while setting Zimmerman’s bond, accused him of trying to manipulate the system and hide $130,000 he had made from a website he started to raise funds.
This is the second time the judge has been replaced in the trial, which is expected to begin next year. The first judge in the case, Jessica Recksiedler, recused herself just before Zimmerman’s initial bond hearing citing a conflict of interest; her husband works with Orlando lawyer Mark NeJame, who was the first attorney approached by Zimmerman’s family to represent him.
Zimmerman was released on $1 million bail in July. He stands accused of second-degree murder in the Feb. 26 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an incident Zimmerman maintains was self-defense. Neither his defense lawyer Mark O’Mara nor Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, have publicly commented on the latest developments.