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May 1, 2013

George Zimmerman won’t seek immunity hearing

SANFORD, Florida — The former neighborhood watch leader charged with fatally shooting a Florida teenager told a judge Tuesday that he agrees with his defense attorneys’ decision not to seek an immunity hearing under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law.

Under questioning from Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, George Zimmerman repeatedly said “yes” to a series of questions asking if he was aware he was giving up the right to a hearing before his second-degree murder trial in June. A judge would have sole discretion in an immunity hearing to decide if Zimmerman is exempt from culpability in the shooting. A jury would make the determination in the murder trial.

“After consultation with my counsel, yes, your honor,” Zimmerman said.

The judge had set aside two weeks at the end of April for an immunity hearing should Zimmerman want one. Zimmerman’s defense attorney, Mark O’Mara, told Nelson during a hearing in March that he wouldn’t need those days. Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda filed a motion last week asking that Zimmerman make clear his intentions on whether he wanted the hearing.

O’Mara, told the judge Tuesday there was nothing in the law that required the immunity hearing to take place before Zimmerman’s trial and could be requested after prosecutors have presented their case.

“We’d much rather have the jury address the issue of criminal liability or lack thereof,” O’Mara said.

Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty, claiming self-defense. Martin was fatally shot in February 2012 during a fight with Zimmerman in a Sanford gated community.

O’Mara also wanted the court to unseal details on a civil settlement Martin’s parents received from Zimmerman’s homeowner’s association. O’Mara contended the settlement could influence the testimony of Martin’s parents, if they are called as witnesses.

The judge said defense attorneys and prosecutors could see full copies of the settlement but the public would only be able to see a version from which some information has been removed.

Daryl Parks, one of the Martin family’s attorneys, said afterward that any attempt by the defense to use information from the recent civil settlement was “smoke and mirrors.”

“It is just wrong to suggest that Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton wanted their son to be killed so they could get a confidential financial settlement,” he said. “It is just so unfair to this family.”

O’Mara denied he was making that suggestion but said anything that goes toward witness bias should be available for a jury to explore during trial to decide whether those testifying are credible.

Nelson rejected a request by O’Mara to find fault with prosecutors for what the defense attorney described as violations in providing discovery evidence to them. O’Mara said that prosecutors’ failure to disclose evidence in a timely manner had caused his team “hours and hours of work.”

The judge said she would hold a hearing after the trial to determine if prosecutors should have to pay for some costs that O’Mara said he incurred because of the alleged discovery problems.

———

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower .

 

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