MIAMI (Reuters) - The Florida man charged with second-degree murder in the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin asked for a new judge in his case on Friday, accusing the current judge of bias.
Lawyers for George Zimmerman filed a motion requesting that Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester withdraw from the trial.
Zimmerman alleged in the filing that Lester made “gratuitous” and “disparaging remarks” about him during a July 5 bond hearing and offered “a personal opinion” in the case.
“In doing so, the Court has created a reasonable fear in Mr. Zimmerman that this Court is biased against him and because of this prejudice he cannot receive a fair and impartial trial or hearing by this Court,” the motion said.
Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer, was released from jail on $150,000 bail in April. But Lester later revoked his bail after prosecutors accused Zimmerman and his wife of misleading the court about their finances to secure a lower bond.
During the original bond hearing, Zimmerman sat silently as his wife, Shellie, told the court the couple had no money.
But investigators later learned the couple failed to disclose $135,000 they raised from a website created by Zimmerman to collect funds from anonymous donors for his legal defense and his wife was later charged with perjury.
Earlier this month, Lester set Zimmerman’s bail at $1 million and issued a scathing decision rejecting arguments by Zimmerman’s lawyer that he posed no risk to the community and his portrayal of the case against Zimmerman as weak.
“Under any definition, the defendant has flouted the system,” Lester wrote at the time. He said Zimmerman’s “stories changed with each retelling.”
Lester also said Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, attempted to portray Zimmerman as a confused young man who “experienced a moment of weakness” and may have acted out a sense of betrayal by the justice system.
“This court finds the opposite. The defendant has tried to manipulate the system when he has been presented the opportunity to do so,” Lester wrote.
O’Mara referred to Lester’s words in the motion. “The Court chose language ... to describe the defendant in ways that reflect the Court’s opinion of Mr. Zimmerman’s character as much as his conduct,” he wrote.
“A reason why Mr. Zimmerman feels he cannot get a fair trial is that the Court spent a lot time and a lot of words crafting an order that was harsh and morally indignant in tone,” O’Mara continued.
Zimmerman was released from jail last week after posting bail and is currently living in an undisclosed safe house in Seminole County, Florida.
It is the second time Zimmerman and his legal team have requested a new judge.
In April, they asked the judge presiding at the time to step aside because of a possible conflict of interest after revelations that the judge’s husband had been contacted by Zimmerman’s family as part of their search for a defense attorney.
The request was granted and Lester was appointed to serve as the judge in the case.
Zimmerman claims self-defense in the February 26 shooting death of 17-year-old Martin in a gated community in the central Florida city of Sanford.
Martin’s killing drew national attention because police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, citing Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law and his assertion that he used deadly force because he feared his life was in danger.
In a another development on Friday, Lester ordered the release of recorded telephone calls made by Zimmerman while he was in jail, denying a motion by his lawyer.
Editing by Todd Eastham