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Trayvon Martin case: Jury can hear five 911 calls from George Zimmerman

The nonemergency 911 calls George Zimmerman has made to local police will help prosecutors in the Trayvon Martin case sketch Mr. Zimmerman's character for the jury. Of the 50 calls he made over eight years, five can be played in court, the judge said Wednesday.

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Defense attorneys Don West (l.), and Lorna Truett (r.), listen to testimony with George Zimmerman during Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla., Wednesday, June 26.

Jacob Langston/Reuters

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Lawyers prosecuting the Trayvon Martin shooting case will have an opportunity to sketch a portrait of defendant George Zimmerman, now that the trial judge has decided the jury can hear five of Mr. Zimmerman's nonemergency 911 calls to police. The calls could help shape jurors' impressions of Zimmerman, who is on trial in Florida for second-degree murder, as either a seething vigilante or a stand-up community organizer.

Zimmerman is on trial for shooting an unarmed black teenager named Trayvon Martin to death on the drizzly evening of Feb. 26, 2012. He had made at least 50 such calls to police over an eight-year span leading up to the shooting, to report things like slow-moving vehicles and loitering by strangers in his gated Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood here in Sanford, Fla. Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson ruled Wednesday that prosecutors can play five of the calls in court. 

Trayvon was returning to the neighborhood home where his father was staying, toting an iced tea, a bag of Skittles, and $40 in his pocket, when Zimmerman got out of his car to investigate, before a 911 dispatcher told him, “We don’t need you to do that.”

The moment before Trayvon’s death remains murky. As a result, the perceived characters of the teenager and of the defendant loom large in the trial, forcing Judge Nelson to tread carefully. More-direct investigations of Zimmerman’s and Trayvon’s characters could enter the trial, now in its third week, if either side raises issues that could be explored by the other side.

The judge has previously ruled that the jury won’t be able to consider social media interactions by Trayvon that describe pot-smoking, guns, and a fascination with martial arts fighting. The defense had said that, similarly, the 911 recordings of Zimmerman are immaterial because they don’t pertain to the moments before Trayvon was shot.

But prosecutors say the 911 calls show what they characterize as Zimmerman’s zealous, angry mind-set and “ill will.” The calls “show the context in which [Zimmerman] sought out his encounter with Trayvon Martin,” prosecutor Richard Mantel told the judge before her ruling.

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