We previously discussed the effort of the defense team for George Zimmerman to introduce text messages, pictures, and history showing that Trayvon Martin had a history of discipline and drug problems. Judge Debra Nelson ruled today that most of this evidence would be kept out despite the fact that Zimmerman’s history and prior statements will be likely introduced. Zimmerman is arguing that it was Martin who attacked him and that this evidence shows a troubled teen with an obsession with guns and gangsta culture.
As I mentioned before, some of these pictures in my view can be kept out of the trial. However, the defense has a legitimate right to evidence showing a prior disposition — just as the prosecution has that right. What is striking is that the prosecution wants to introduce a host of pre-statements and actions to paint Zimmerman as a racist or violent individual. However, they oppose such evidence related to Martin. Zimmerman’s defense is that Martin attacked him and he wants to show that Martin had problems before that night, including his mother demanding that he leave the house and live with his father.
The images come from Martin’s Huawei phone including what may be a self-picture of Martin holding a Smith and Wesson handgun. However, while it appears taken by the person holding the cellphone, there is no proof it is Martin unless the defense has found contemporary witnesses. Other photos show the gun and potted marijuana plants. The defense also wants to introduce evidence that Martin was suspended for fighting from school. This includes texts from November 2011 in which he says that his mother has kicked him out of the house after “da police caught me outta skool.” His friend responds “So you just turning into a lil hoodlum.” Martin responds “Naw, I’m a gangsta.” In other messages, Martin discusses guns like one that asks “U wanna share a .380 w/ (blacked out).”
The judge left open the possible introduction of some evidence if it becomes relevant later. However, for now, the evidence is out. I understand the order on some of the evidence, but I am less convinced on other pieces of evidence. For example, Nelson declined for now to rule admissible toxicology tests showing Martin had enough THC — the key active ingredient in marijuana — to indicate he may have smoked the drug a couple of hours before the shooting. It seems to me that contemporaneous drug use within hours of the incident in the case would be relevant to Zimmerman’s defense.
Nelson did not appear particularly concerned by the failure of the prosecution to turn over critical pieces of evidence to the defense — a common complaint over alleged prosecutorial misconduct.
She also barred evidence on the delay to arrest Zimmerman despite it indicated that police and prosecutors viewed the case as a likely matter of self-defense. She also ruled against a defense motion to have the jury visit the crime scene, which she described as “disingenuous” in light of another defense motion requesting anonymity for the jury. I fail to see the basis for that dig at the defense and it undermined Nelson’s credibility on the evidentiary motions.
There is an obvious concern over the publicity and public anger surrounding the case and how it affected the prosecutors and the court. As stated earlier, I believe the prosecutors yielded to public pressure in overcharging the case. While Nelson came down hard against the defense today, many judges favor the prosecution in such motions. The rulings however do raise the concern that character evidence will be introduced against Zimmerman but denied to his defense in discussing Martin. It may come down to whether the prosecutor trips the wire in its examinations but the remaining evidence will not be available during the key opening arguments for the defense.