COMPILED FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
Here’s an update of events related to the Trayvon Martin murder case:
• George Zimmerman’s defense lawyer can continue his controversial social media and public relations strategy, a judge ruled Monday.
• Prosecutors handling the second-degree murder charge against Zimmerman requested the gag order because of what they believed was a campaign by the defense to taint the jury.
• Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson decided against issuing the gag order in the high-profile murder case, saying that there was no evidence of “an overriding pattern of prejudicial commentary that will overcome reasonable efforts to select a fair and impartial jury.”
• Duval County Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda argued that defense lawyer Mark O’Mara had repeatedly broken accepted Florida Bar rules regarding what an attorney can say and about what. O’Mara, he said, has commented publicly on evidence, the credibility of witnesses and even his own client.
The two sides faced off during a 2 1/2-hour hearing Friday before Nelson at the Seminole County courthouse in Sanford.
The Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel and other media companies fought back against the gag order, saying the prosecutor did not present enough evidence to prove it was necessary.
“Judge Nelson recognized that gag orders can be used only as a last resort if there is no other way to make sure there will be an impartial jury,” said Scott Ponce, an attorney for The Miami Herald and other media companies. “Judges have a lot of tools they can use to make sure jurors are impartial, and Judge Nelson is going to use those tools instead entering of a gag order.”
The judge added that she ruled on the order “without prejudice,” meaning the lawyers can file more motions on the issue in the future. It was the second time de la Rionda asked for a gag order.
O’Mara is an Orlando criminal defense lawyer who launched a novel public relations strategy, which included a website dedicated just to that case and a Twitter account. A Facebook page was abandoned when it quickly devolved into bickering among users. He has held occasional press conferences and given both national and local TV and newspaper interviews.
O’Mara said he turned to social media to turn around an onslaught of negative publicity that preceded Zimmerman’s arrest. An employee does the bulk of his social media and website announcements.
Trayvon Martin, 17, was in Sanford on Feb. 26. Martin encountered Zimmerman on the way back from a convenience store. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, stopped Martin, words were exchanged, then Zimmerman shot Martin in what he claimed was self-defense.
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law allows people to use force if they reasonably believe it is needed to defend themselves or others. Zimmerman’s attorneys intend to use the law to justify Martin’s death.
The trial is tentatively set for June 10, 2013. In a separate ruling, Nelson said prosecutors will not have access to Zimmerman’s medical records from before the February shooting.
‘Stand Your Ground’ clarified
On Monday, a Central Florida appeals court ruled that a Haines City police officer cannot use “Stand Your Ground” to defend himself against a misdemeanor charge of using unnecessary force during an altercation in October 2010.
The Second District Court of Appeal on Friday said the case involving Juan Caamano is the first to directly address whether “Stand Your Ground” applies to law enforcement officers.
A three-judge panel overturned a circuit court ruling that would have allowed Caamano to use the law in his defense to a misdemeanor battery charge. The court said another more stringent law applies to cases dealing with use of force by law officers.
Frances Robles of the Miami Herald / MCT, and the News Service of Florida contributed to this report.