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Zimmerman judge expected to step aside this week

By Rene Stutzman, The Orlando Sentinel –

SANFORD, Fla. — With Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler on the way out, who’ll be the judge handling the George Zimmerman second-degree murder case?

Court officials issued a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying Recksiedler is expected to decide what to do no later than Friday.

But things should become clearer Wednesday. That’s the day Recksiedler is expected to sign an order, surrendering control of the case.

She was in Daytona Beach Tuesday, temporarily filling in as an appellate judge on the Fifth District Court of Appeal. She has little option but to grant the motion because of a possible conflict of interest. Several courthouse workers said that will happen Wednesday.

Defense attorney Mark O’Mara on Monday filed paperwork asking her to step down. Her husband is a partner of attorney Mark NeJame, who’s under contract with CNN to provide analysis of this case.

When she does sign the order, stepping aside, the next judge will be one of three people, the remaining felony judges in Seminole County. They are:

—John Galluzzo, a longtime Oviedo lawyer who’s represented several murder defendants and been on the bench five years.

—Kenneth Lester Jr., the 15-year veteran judge who sentenced Mike Reynolds to the death penalty for beating and stabbing a Geneva couple and their 11-year-old child to death in 1998.

—Debra S. Nelson, a 13-year judge who was a civil litigation specialist when she was in private practice.

Zimmerman, 28, is in the Seminole County Jail, charged with second-degree murder. On Feb. 26, he fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old who was walking through Zimmerman’s gated community in Sanford at dusk.

Martin’s family, attorneys and some civil rights leaders accused Zimmerman of racial profiling and said he stalked the teenager and murdered him. Zimmerman told police, however, that he had acted in self-defense, that Martin had attacked him and was pounding his head on a sidewalk.

Sanford police did not arrest him. That prompted public outrage, setting off demonstrations in Sanford and major cities across the country.

Zimmerman was arrested last week after Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, the state attorney in Jacksonville, decided to charge him with second-degree murder.

So what judge will manage this racially-charged case?

Two hearings already are in the offing: On Friday, Zimmerman is expected to appear and ask to be released on bail. He’s currently being held without bond at the Seminole County Jail.

And several media companies, including The Orlando Sentinel, The New York Times and CNN, want hearing time to ask the judge to unseal the court file and give the public access to the evidence gathered by the state.

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