George Zimmerman, 28, is charged with murder in the death of Trayvon Martin
Media lawyers want more information released about the case
Prosecution and defense are both fighting to keep material sealed
George Zimmerman’s defense team and prosecutors trying to convict him of murder in Trayvon Martin’s death will be on the same side in court Friday, fighting against media companies’ request to release more information in the hot-button case.
Seminole County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. will preside over the hearing, which is set to begin at 1:30 p.m., during which prosecution and defense lawyers will argue that a host of material should remain sealed. Scott Ponce of the Miami-based law firm Holland & Knight will argue for more disclosure on behalf of various newspapers, TV stations and their parent companies.
The opposing arguments were laid out in motions filed in advance of Friday’s hearing.
Martin, 17, was shot to death February 26 while walking in a Sanford, Florida, neighborhood where he was staying during a visit with his father. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, told police he shot the teenager in self-defense.
The incident spurred protests among some, who criticized police handling of the investigation and said Martin, who was unarmed and carrying a bag of Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea at the time of his death, was racially profiled. The slain teen was African-American and Zimmerman is Hispanic. Zimmerman, 28, was charged with second-degree murder on April 11 and is free on bail.
The intense public attention on the case is a chief reason certain information should remain out of the public eye, Bernardo de la Rionda of State Attorney Angela Corey’s office said in a motion filed earlier this month.
He argued that releasing too much “will result in this matter being tried in the press rather than in court, and an inability to seat a fair and impartial jury in Seminole County.” De la Rionda also voiced worries about witnesses being “reluctant to testify” for fear that their privacy will be violated and other witnesses being “harassed by media representatives.”
Specifically, the state wants the names and addresses of witnesses kept out of the public record. It asks for the same for crime scene and autopsy photos, a 911 recording of the incident and cell phone records of Martin, Zimmerman and one witness.
De la Rionda is also requesting a judge seal statements Zimmerman made to law enforcement officers, some of which may be used against him at trial because they were “inconsistent with the physical evidence and statements of witnesses.”
Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, filed his own motion agreeing with the prosecution’s desire not to release material. He said the defense wants 1,000 e-mails received by Sanford police to be sealed, plus statements by Zimmerman. He asked that text messages, e-mail messages or journals made by the defendant be kept private, at least until they can be reviewed.
This week, Ponce filed responses to the prosecution and defense positions, addressing them point by point.
“The broad secrecy the state seeks … is not supported by statute, constitution or case law, and it certainly cannot be justified in this prosecution,” he said.
Ponce argued that civilian witnesses’ names and addresses cannot be sealed under Florida’s public records law, because they would not be “defamatory” or “jeopardize the safety” of a witness. He said the state hasn’t proven anyone is in jeopardy. The contested cell phone records may be reviewed and, if need be, have parts redacted, but they shouldn’t be withheld entirely, he said.
Ponce said Zimmerman’s statements to police should not be treated as “confessions,” which would not be made public before trial.
InSession’s Nancy Leung contributed to this report.