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Zimmerman trial: Prosecutors can call him a 'vigilante,' judge says

With opening statements set for Monday, the judge ruled prosecutors can use loaded language, such as 'wanna-be cop,' to describe Zimmerman, but that they must avoid the term 'racial profiling.'

In Sanford, Fla., Friday, Judge Debra Nelson addresses concerns from the state and defense that need to be settled before opening arguments next week in George Zimmerman's trial in Seminole circuit court. Mr. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/AP

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A Florida judge on Friday rejected a motion from George Zimmerman’s lawyers to censor prosecutors, ruling that the state is perfectly free to use charged references like “wanna-be cop” and “vigilante” to describe Trayvon Martin’s killer.

Judge Debra Nelson did, however, tell prosecutors to avoid using the term “racial profiling,” agreeing with defense attorney Mark O’Mara’s theory that the phrase could “infect the jury with a racial component that won’t be supported in fact.”

After nearly two weeks of jury selection, opening statements in the murder trial are expected Monday, leading to a flurry of last-minute maneuvers around what facts, analysis, and legal theories will be allowed in the courtroom.

The motion by Mr. O’Mara to censor the prosecution isn’t all that unusual for defense attorneys looking, at the very least, for issues on which to base an appeal in case they lose. The motion was also intended, as O’Mara said, “to try to separate [the facts of the case in the courtroom] from what everybody else outside the courtroom wants it to be.”

But it does hint at the defense’s potentially greatest challenge: proving that the actions that Mr. Zimmerman took before he killed Martin, an unarmed black teenager, meet the definition of “reasonable” in the eyes of a jury made up mostly of mothers.

That underlying question has fueled debate about the case from the start. It was brought to national attention by massive protests after police in Sanford, Fla., refused to arrest Zimmerman, saying he was protected by the state’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law that says there’s no “duty to retreat” before using deadly force in self-defense, even in a public place.

Zimmerman shot Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, after getting out of his car to follow him against the advise of a 911 dispatcher. Zimmerman said he acted in self-defense after Martin attacked him, broke his nose, and bashed his head into a sidewalk.


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