SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - Prosecutors want a Florida judge to impose a gag order on the Trayvon Martin murder case, saying lawyers for the man charged with murdering the unarmed black teenager threaten to taint the jury pool by trying the case “in the media and not in the courtroom.”
Judge Debra Nelson scheduled a hearing next week on the motion which was filed by Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda in Seminole County Circuit Court.
The motion came just before George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer charged with second-degree murder for the shooting death of Martin on February 26, appeared in court on Friday afternoon for a pre-trial hearing.
“This case has continued to have an inordinate amount of media coverage,” de la Rionda said in his motion.
“Unless defense counsel stops talking to the media about the case, in person or by use of the defendant’s website, it will be more difficult to find jurors who have not been influenced by media accounts of the case,” he said.
It is the second time de la Rionda has requested a gag order in the case, which grabbed the media spotlight and triggered public outrage because police in the central Florida town of Sanford initially declined to arrest Zimmerman.
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty and a trial date has been set for June 10.
“This case should be tried in the courtroom and not in the media,” de la Rionda said in his new motion. He noted that Zimmerman’s lead attorney, Mark O‘Mara, had taken to national television as well as the Internet and social media sites including Facebook and Twitter to comment on the case.
In Friday’s hearing, Nelson denied an attempt by prosecutors to seal social media records in the case, including the Facebook and Twitter accounts of Martin and a teenage girl who he was speaking to on his cellphone just before he was killed.
“This is an open court. This is a public case. The court has no intention of closing this court,” Nelson said.
She also allowed the defense to subpoena Martin’s school records, but required that they be kept confidential as required by law.
Prosecutors said in court filings that Zimmerman’s lawyers were on a “fishing expedition” for background information about Martin that could potentially be used “to influence public perception or otherwise curry favor with potential jurors.”
Nelson also ruled that the prosecution could obtain Zimmerman’s entire medical file from his local doctor - once the judge has reviewed the file to determine whether any specific records should be withheld.
Zimmerman’s attorney had sought to block the prosecution request, citing what he said was his client’s right to privacy.
Martin’s school records could provide details of any history of disciplinary action.
At the time of his death, the 17-year-old was staying at his father’s fiancée’s townhome in a gated community in Sanford. He was serving a 10-day suspension from his Miami high school after being caught with a baggie that contained traces of marijuana.
Zimmerman has said he acted in self-defense when he shot Martin, who was walking back from a convenience store to the townhome.
O‘Mara has said he would seek to have the murder charge dismissed in a hearing in April or May under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which allows individuals in fear for their life to use deadly force in self-defense.
Writing and additional reporting by Tom Brown.; Editing by David Adams and David Brunnstrom