SANFORD, Fla. — The prosecutor in the case of a former neighborhood watch leader accused of shooting an unarmed teenager called the conduct of the defense lawyer “a slippery slope” in pleading with the judge Friday to impose a gag order on all attorneys.
Assistant state attorney Bernie de la Rionda De la Rionda wants the order imposed because he believes George Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, has been using a website and both social and news media to influence potential jurors.
He questioned O’Mara’s motives and ethics in publicly questioning the credibility of potential witnesses in the high-profile case.
“My concern is if we are going to be able to pick a jury in Seminole County or anywhere else in the state of Florida?” De la Rionda told the judge. “Commenting on the credibility of witnesses? Why do we have an ethical rule about that?”
Circuit Judge Debra Nelson delayed issuing a written ruling until at least Monday after hearing more than an hour-and-a-half of arguments.
The 29-year-old Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the February shooting of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty claiming self-defense.
O’Mara denied that he had crossed any ethical lines, but said his unique approach in this case has been done to combat what he believes are attempts by attorneys for Martin’s parents to paint Zimmerman as a “racist murderer.”
“We had to do something to deal with the enormity of information flowing in the case,” O’Mara said. “ ... And we did it in a way we thought was principally presented.”
O’Mara launched a website, as well as Twitter and Facebook accounts in April, citing a need to diffuse fraudulent internet entities that claimed to come from Zimmerman. O’Mara contends he didn’t discuss any specific evidence and has been compliant with all bar rules.
The judge ruled on several other motions Friday, including setting a date for a hearing on the “Stand Your Ground” self-defense immunity for 45 days before trial. Nelson has previously scheduled Zimmerman’s murder trial for June 10. A status hearing is set for mid-December.
In addition, Nelson gave the prosecution redacted copies of Zimmerman’s medical records from his doctor visits in the weeks following the Feb. 26 shooting. The state had requested more records than it previously had been provided.
She redacted only information she said was not pertaining to the Martin case specifically. Zimmerman has claimed that the reason she shot the teen was because he feared for his life after Martin began to slam his head against the ground during a fight.
Nelson also will allow the defense to seek copies of any additional materials the Florida Department of Law Enforcement may have collected in the case that may have not been previously provided.
She also denied a defense request to have several Sanford police officials sequestered before giving depositions to the defense.
The prosecution had its first motion for a gag order denied in April by the former judge in the case, Kenneth Lester.
An appeals court forced Lester to step down from the case in August after it overturned his decision not to leave the case. O’Mara said that the judge made disparaging remarks about Zimmerman’s character and advocated for additional charges against him in setting his $1 million bond in July.
Friday was the first time that Nelson has been presented with the gag order request since taking over the case.
De la Rionda argued in court filings that since Lester’s denial of the gag order in April, O’Mara had “continued to have an inordinate amount of media coverage” with both Zimmerman and his attorney appearing on national television to talk about the case.
O’Mara in turn called the attorneys for Martin’s parents— Benjamin Crump and Natalie Jackson — “state surrogates” for what he said have been their public attacks on Zimmerman by calling him “racist” and accusing him of profiling Martin.
“Crump and Natalie Jackson decided they would go to make this a national case because sometimes there’s a pot of gold at the end of these cases,” O’Mara said. “ ... I’m not saying they are in a conspiracy, but they are in effect presenting the state’s case.”
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower.