George Zimmerman, set to stand trial in the 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin, on Tuesday waived his right to a "stand your ground" pretrial immunity hearing. Zimmerman's attorneys have decided they will try this as a self-defense case.
Florida's deadly force law, also called "stand your ground", was passed in 2005. It allows people to meet "force with force" if they believe they or someone else is in danger of being seriously harmed by an assailant. Under the law, a person can use deadly force anywhere as long as he is not engaged in an unlawful activity, is being attacked in a place he has a right to be, and reasonably believes that his life and safety are in danger as a result of an overt act or perceived threat committed by someone else.
In a pretrial immunity hearing, a judge would have ruled whether Zimmerman's actions were protected under the "stand your ground" law; a ruling in favor of the defendant would have meant that no criminal or civil trial could proceed.
Martin was shot and killed on February 26, 2012, while returning from a nearby convenience store to his father's fiancée's house in a gated community in Sanford, Florida.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, acknowledged that he shot the unarmed 17-year-old, but said Martin physically attacked him and he fired in self-defense. Initially, no charges were pursued, and the case soon became the center of a national controversy.
Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder on April 11, 2012.
During Tuesday's motions hearing, Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O'Mara told Judge Debra Nelson there was nothing in the law that required the immunity hearing to take place before Zimmerman's trial. O'Mara said the hearing could be requested after the defense has presented its case, but "we'd much rather have the jury address the issue of criminal liability or lack thereof."
Benjamin Crump, attorney for the Martin family, said Zimmerman's decision to "merge" the hearing and the trial "is very telling of his defense, or lack thereof."
"We believe the defense's decision to waive a pretrial hearing and to merge the 'stand your ground' hearing into the trial is to prevent putting George Zimmerman on the stand," Crump said in a press release, "and to preclude the public and the potential jury pool from previewing the many inconsistencies in George Zimmerman's story."
Crump said a pretrial hearing was clearly the intent of state law because the statute "grants immunity from civil lawsuits, arrests and trials, if a defendant prevails."
Crump continued: "... the decision made by the defense to waive a pretrial hearing and to solely continue on to trial vindicates the many thousands of protesters who demanded George Zimmerman be arrested for the killing of Trayvon Martin. After all, to have a felony criminal trial an arrest must first be made."
After the motions hearing ended, prosecutors and defense attorneys were to meet in private with the judge to discuss jury issues for the June 10 trial.