George Zimmerman waived his right to a pretrial immunity hearing Tuesday in a Florida courtroom as he awaits trial for the 2012 killing of 15-year-old Trayvon Martin, a case that sparked widespread controversy about racism and vigilantism.
Zimmerman, wearing a navy suit and yellow striped tie and looking much heavier than in past appearances, was asked yes-or-no questions by Seminole County Judge Debra Nelson. He said he was familiar with Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute, which allows for the use of deadly force when a person has the “presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.” Zimmerman also said he agreed with his legal team not to have a pretrial immunity hearing, which would have covered the Stand Your Ground law.
Zimmerman’s lawyers previously said they would not exercise the right to such a hearing -- two weeks in April were set aside for the matter -- but state prosecutors wanted Zimmerman to reiterate that strategy in open court. Zimmerman’s lawyers left open the possibility of having such a hearing during the trial.
Mark O’Mara, one of Zimmerman’s attorneys, tried to block Nelson’s questioning, arguing that his client would be subject to a “public and somewhat invasive inquiry” and asking if Zimmerman could instead sign an affidavit outside of court. The judge denied O’Mara’s request and noted that she would ask only yes-or-no questions to the defendant.
O’Mara said there was nothing in case law, Florida statues or rules to suggest an immunity hearing had to be conducted before a trial.
Zimmerman faces second-degree murder charges in the February 26, 2012, death of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager. Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, was charged nearly three months after the incident. Many said racism was to blame for the delay of charges.
The circumstances of the death spurred controversy in Florida and around the nation. Zimmerman was a member of a neighborhood watch group and says he believed Trayvon was acting suspiciously as he walked home from a 7-Eleven in Sanford, Fla. Much was made about Trayvon wearing a hoodie with the hood up at the time of the incident.
Zimmerman was in his car when he reported the alleged suspicious activity to a 911 dispatcher, who urged Zimmerman to let police handle the situation. Instead, Zimmerman pursued Trayvon, got out of his car, a struggle ensued, and Zimmerman’s gun went off.
Zimmerman contends he was acting in self-defense, while prosecutors will argue that Zimmerman intended to kill the teen.
Also discussed at Tuesday’s hearing was a defense motion to include five additional witnesses to its case. Nelson allowed the witnesses to be called during the trial, although their names were not mentioned in open court.