MIAMI (AP) — George Zimmerman will seek to have second-degree murder charges dismissed under Florida’s “stand your ground” law in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, his attorney said Thursday.
The hearing, which likely won’t take place for several months, will amount to a minitrial involving much of the evidence collected by prosecutors as well as expert testimony from both sides. Although the posting did not say so, legal experts say it’s likely that Mr. Zimmerman himself would testify since he is the sole survivor of the Feb. 26 confrontation.
“Most of the arguments, witnesses, experts and evidence that the defense would muster in a criminal trial will be presented in the ‘stand your ground’ hearing,” said the statement posted on Mr. Zimmerman’s official defense website.
Under the law, Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester can dismiss the charges if Mr. Zimmerman conclusively shows he fatally shot Martin because he “reasonably believed” he might be killed or suffer “great bodily harm” at the hands of the unarmed teenager. The law also says a person has no duty to retreat in the face of such a threat.
Mr. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, shot Martin after a confrontation in Mr. Zimmerman’s gated community in the central Florida town of Sanford, where Martin was visiting. The case drew local and nationwide protests because Mr. Zimmerman was not arrested for weeks after the shooting.
Evidence released by prosecutors, the Zimmerman statement said, shows “clear support for a strong claim of self-defense.” The statement added that Zimmerman attorney Mark O’Mara “urges everyone to be patient during this process and to reserve judgment until the evidence is presented in the ‘stand your ground’ hearing.”
Martin’s parents have contended that Mr. Zimmerman singled out their son as he was returning from a convenience store because he was black and that it was Mr. Zimmerman’s aggression that led to the youth’s death. Mr. Zimmerman, who is free on $1 million bail, faces a possible life prison sentence if convicted of second-degree murder.
If his “stand your ground” claim succeeds, however, the criminal charges would be dismissed and Mr. Zimmerman could not be held liable in any civil action such as a wrongful death lawsuit. Prosecutors likely would appeal a successful self-defense claim.
A spokeswoman for special prosecutor Angela Corey declined comment Thursday. An attorney for Martin’s parents did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
Legal experts have said that Mr. Zimmerman’s credibility is a key to his claim and that he undermined his own cause by deceiving the judge about his finances during an April bond hearing. That alleged deception led to perjury charges against Mr. Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie. She has pleaded not guilty.
Judge Lester, who also will decide the self-defense claim, said Mr. Zimmerman “flaunted the system” by making misleading statements about how much money the couple had raised through online contributions from supporters. The judge revoked Mr. Zimmerman’s initial $150,000 bond and had him returned to jail, then allowed him to be released on the higher $1 million figure with additional restrictions.