By Jeff Weiner and Rene Stutzman, Orlando Sentinel –
ORLANDO, Fla. — After months of defending George Zimmerman and reacting to state-gathered records, his lawyers late this week shifted gear and began their hunt for evidence about the teenager he killed.
Their first target is Trayvon Martin’s school records, something expected to reveal damaging information about the Miami Gardens 17-year-old.
On Thursday, Zimmerman’s lawyers issued several subpoenas, asking for disciplinary records, attendance records and test scores dating back to middle school. Defense lawyer Mark O’Mara indicated in a blog post Friday that he will likely soon ask for what Trayvon wrote and posted on social media sites.
Local lawyers say the school records are unlikely to be admissible in court. O’Mara, they said, is simply casting a wide net, while also hoping to influence public perception of Trayvon.
“I believe it’s O’Mara doing what any good defense attorney does, and that’s called fishing,” said Bill Sheaffer, WFTV-TV legal analyst. “You throw a thousand stones in the sea and hope that one hits a fish.”
While Sheaffer described the record subpoenas as a fishing expedition, Martin family attorney Ben Crump described it as a “witch hunt to try to assault (Trayvon’s) character.”
“None of those things that are being subpoenaed is relevant to why Zimmerman profiled and pursued Trayvon and shot him in the heart,” Crump told the Orlando Sentinel.
Much of Trayvon’s disciplinary history has already been made public.
The 17-year-old, who was staying with his father’s girlfriend in Sanford, was on suspension from school at the time of the shooting because of an empty marijuana baggie. Though he was never arrested, he’d been in trouble before.
The Miami Herald reported that a school police officer searched Trayvon’s book bag in October and found women’s jewelry, as well as a screwdriver, which authorities described as a burglary tool. He was not disciplined for that but was suspended because, a day or so earlier, a school resource officer saw him deface a door, the Herald reported.
Such incidents are not likely to be admissible in court, lawyers say, because they’re not relevant to the shooting.
“The general principle is that you can’t engage in character assassination of a victim,” said Orlando defense lawyer Richard Hornsby. “They would have to show that they’re relevant to a legal issue in the case.”
Zimmerman says he reported Trayvon to police minutes before the shooting because the teen appeared to be suspicious. While the school incidents might seem to support that observation, the defense has another problem, lawyers say: Zimmerman didn’t know about Trayvon’s past, so that couldn’t have informed his behavior.
“Whether he was a good kid or a bad kid, Mr. Zimmerman did not know him, so that would not be relevant to Mr. Zimmerman’s state of mind,” said attorney Dean Reed of Longwood, Fla.
Reed and Hornsby said the school records are likely more helpful to O’Mara in the court of public opinion.
“We’ve had an opportunity to see Mr. Zimmerman in a different light, based upon hearings that they’ve gone through already, photos that we’ve seen, which show him to be a smaller person, much meeker than he was initially portrayed,” Reed said. “And we see that Trayvon Martin was not a baby-faced, innocent child as it was initially portrayed, so this is an opportunity to flip the script.”