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Bill Cosby says Trayvon Martin case is about gun ownership, not race

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But in another aspect peculiar to Florida, if the appeals court sides with Zimmerman, not only will he be forever immune from facing criminal charges for shooting the 17-year-old Martin — even if new evidence or witnesses surface — he could not even be sued for civil damages by Martin's family for wrongfully causing his death.

"You get even more protection than any acquitted murderer," said Tamara Lawson, a former prosecutor who now teaches at St. Thomas School of Law in Miami. "This law seems to give more protection than any other alleged criminal could dream about."

If Zimmerman can't convince the judge of his innocence, he still can use "stand your ground" to convince jurors.

Zimmerman, 28, is facing up to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder for shooting Martin on Feb. 26. A neighborhood watch volunteer in the central Florida town of Sanford, he said he fired his 9 mm handgun after Martin attacked and beat him. Martin's family and supporters claim Zimmerman was the aggressor, targeting Martin for suspicion mainly because he was black. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother Hispanic.

His attorney, Mark O'Mara, said Zimmerman will plead not guilty and seek dismissal of the charge using "stand your ground." Many legal experts think he's got a good case, particularly if there are medical records backing up his claim that Martin broke his nose and slammed his head on a sidewalk. Other experts say, however, that the law will not protect Zimmerman if he was the aggressor.

The special prosecutor in the case, Angela Corey, said she fully expects a fierce battle over the self-defense claim.

"If 'stand your ground' becomes an issue, we fight it if we believe it's the right thing to do," she said.

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