ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman told a court in Florida on Tuesday he would wait until his June trial to argue that he acted in self-defense when he shot and killed unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin last year.
Prosecutors say Zimmerman, 29, profiled and confronted the 17-year-old Martin before shooting him in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, in February 2012, despite a police dispatcher instructing him not to give chase.
Prosecutors argued that if Zimmerman were to claim immunity under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law - which bars prosecution of someone who uses lethal force when in fear for their life rather than opting to retreat - this would have to be done before the start of his second-degree murder trial on June 10.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Zimmerman waived his right to a pretrial hearing to address the issue of immunity, and defense attorney Mark O‘Mara said he could still file a standard motion for acquittal on grounds of self-defense after the evidence is presented at trial and before the case goes to a jury.
Judge Debra Nelson questioned Zimmerman as to whether he understood his lawyers’ decision not to raise the issue now.
“Is it your decision not to have a pretrial immunity hearing?” she asked Zimmerman.
“Yes,” he replied after consulting with his lawyers.
Martin was walking back to a town home in Sanford with snacks to eat during a televised basketball game when the clash occurred.
Zimmerman has said the two fought and he shot Martin because he feared Martin would kill him.
The judge opened Tuesday’s hearing by warning attorneys about a mounting climate of acrimony in the case. In court filings, defense lawyers have accused prosecutors of willfully hampering defense efforts to obtain evidence, while prosecutors have responded with withering critiques of the defense’s media strategy.
“I will not tolerate it. I will not tolerate it in court proceedings. I will not tolerate it in court filings,” Nelson said.
Nelson also will hear a defense request to unseal a settlement between Martin’s parents and the homeowner’s association at The Retreat at Twin Lakes subdivision where Martin was killed.
The association’s insurance company at one point offered its policy limit of $1 million to the family, according to correspondence between the insurance company and the association attached to the motion. The defense argues that the jury should be able to consider the financial interest of potential witnesses in the case.
Editing by David Adams and David Brunnstrom