More evidence to be released in Trayvon Martin case, judge rules
(CNN) — A judge has ordered the release of additional evidence in the Trayvon Martin case, including an autopsy report, photographs of the crime scene and details of what George Zimmerman said to police the night he shot the Florida teen.
Attorneys for Zimmerman had argued that his conversations with Sanford, Florida, police the night of the February 26 shooting should not be made public under a state law dealing with “the substance of a confession of a person arrested,” but Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester Jr. ruled Tuesday that the law did not apply.
“The only element conceded by the defendant is that he shot and killed the victim, but he does not concede any other elements of second-degree murder. … Since the defendant admitted at his bond hearing that he shot the victim, disclosure of those statements will not impact the defendant’s right to a fair trial,” Lester said in a written order. His ruling was in response to media requests for the release of more information in the case.
E-mails to the Sanford Police Department, cell phone records listing dates and times that Zimmerman contacted police and copies of witness statements should be released, Lester said.
But Lester ruled that the court would not release the names and addresses of witnesses before the trial.
“The innocent witnesses who have performed their civil and moral duty by reporting what they observed to law enforcement should not have their lives turned upside-down for having done so,” he said.
Cell phone records not dealing with calls from Zimmerman to police will also remain sealed, he said, as will photographs of Martin’s body after the shooting.
Prosecution and defense lawyers had argued that a host of material should remain sealed.
The intense public attention on the case is a chief reason certain information should remain out of the public eye, prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda said in a motion filed last month.
Releasing too much “will result in this matter being tried in the press rather than in court, and an inability to seat a fair and impartial jury in Seminole County,” he argued. De la Rionda also voiced worries about witnesses being “reluctant to testify” for fear that their privacy would be violated and other witnesses being “harassed by media representatives.”
De la Rionda also requested that the judge seal statements Zimmerman made to law enforcement officers, some of which may be used against him at trial because they were “inconsistent with the physical evidence and statements of witnesses.”
Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, filed his own motion agreeing with the prosecution’s desire not to release material. He said the defense wants 1,000 e-mails received by Sanford police to be sealed, plus statements by Zimmerman.
Scott Ponce of the Miami-based law firm Holland & Knight argued for more disclosure on behalf of various newspapers, TV stations and their parent companies.
“The broad secrecy the state seeks … is not supported by statute, constitution or case law, and it certainly cannot be justified in this prosecution,” he said.
Ponce had argued that civilian witnesses’ names and addresses couldn’t be sealed under Florida’s public records law, because they would not be “defamatory” or “jeopardize the safety” of a witness.
In his six-page order, Lester noted the media scrutiny of the case.
“News stories have been routinely disseminated presenting opinion and rumors as fact. Any person who has logged onto a news website in the last three months has at the least seen a headline relating to the case,” he wrote. “As noted, common sense tells this court that the full disclosure of information, as sought by the media interveners, will irreparably harm the…ability to receive a fair trial.”
Zimmerman, 28, has pleaded not guilty. He has been in custody at the Seminole County’s John E. Polk Correctional Facility since June 3, two days after Lester revoked his bond. A bail hearing is scheduled for June 29.
Zimmerman’s wife was charged with perjury this week for allegedly lying at his bond hearing about the couple’s finances.