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Judge in Trayvon Martin case limits defence

Supporters gather to join candlelight vigil at exact moment when Martin was shot one year ago in SanfordORLANDO — Defence lawyers for George Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin, will be barred from mentioning Martin’s marijuana use, fighting or high school suspension during opening arguments in Zimmerman’s trial, which begins June 10.

At a hearing in Seminole County court, Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson denied a string of defence motions today that sought to portray Mr. Martin as a troubled teenager with a propensity for fighting and an interest in guns. Prosecutors argued that the evidence has nothing to do with the seven minutes that led to Martin’s death on Feb. 26, 2012. Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, was killed by Zimmerman, who said he shot him in self-defence.

Mark O’Mara, a lawyer for Zimmerman, argued in court that Martin’s drug use could have made him more aggressive and paranoid, traits that could have prompted him to attack Zimmerman.

“All of that fits in squarely to what the defense is going to present: That George Zimmerman was put in the position that he had to act in self-defence,” O’Mara argued. “How could you keep us from arguing that?”

Judge Nelson replied: “The rules of evidence keep you from doing it.”

The judge, though, left open the possibility that some of this information, including Facebook postings and text messages, may come up at trial but she set a high hurdle for the defense. Nevertheless, O’Mara viewed the decision as a victory, saying that it forces prosecutors to be careful in how they portray Zimmerman.

“You get ready for whatever battle they may throw at you, with the hope that most of your weapons stay in your quiver,” O’Mara said at a news conference after the hearing.

Judge Nelson also called it a “logistical nightmare” to allow jurors to visit the gated community in Sanford, Fla., where Martin was shot. She denied that request. O’Mara said he wanted jurors to get a feel for the dark cut-through between two rows of townhouses in the spot where Martin was shot.

The judge also ruled that the massive jury pool, which could number 500, would not be sequestered during jury selection. But she has not yet ruled on whether jurors who are chosen for the trial should be sequestered. (Reuters)

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