Legal experts were shocked on Tuesday when the attorneys for George Zimmerman announced they’d skip a hearing that could have led to the dismissal of charges for their client. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Florida teenager whose death on Feb. 26, 2012, polarized the nation.
Had Zimmerman’s attorneys been able to prove he shot Martin in self-defense, all criminal proceedings would have terminated immediately. Zimmerman would have been granted legal immunity under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which itself has been the subject of controversy since the alleged murder.
There was an inherent risk, however, in that if they attended the hearing (scheduled for April), prosecutors would have been able to question Zimmerman and strategize against him before the real trial begins June 10. This move gives the defense more time to plan following Judge Debra Nelson's previous denial of a request to push back the start of the trial.
Zimmerman, 29, has been the target of public and media scorn since his arrest, which came weeks after Martin was killed and only on the heels of public outrage. The Neighborhood Watchman is accused of shooting Martin in the chest after following the teen through a residential Florida area. Zimmerman allegedly ignored pleas from a 911 operator asking him to stand down. The case has racial overtones considering Zimmerman is a Hispanic man who shot Martin, a black youth.
Much of a pretrial hearing on Tuesday focused on the credibility of Witness 8, a young woman who told police she was on the phone with Martin moments before his encounter with Zimmerman, according to ABC News. She’s regarded as a potential star witness, in part because of her assertion that Martin told her that a strange man was following him.
Zimmerman has been free on $1 million bail and remains under 24 hour GPS surveillance while awaiting trial.