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Judge: Zimmerman entitled to Trayvon Martin’s school records, social media posts

By Rene Stutzman and Jeff Weiner, Orlando Sentinel –

SANFORD, Fla. — A judge Friday said yes to the very thing Trayvon Martin’s family did not want: Defense attorneys rummaging through their son’s school records and background, looking for damaging information.

Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson cleared the way for George Zimmerman’s legal team to begin digging. Defense attorney Mark O’Mara apologized, but said he owed it to his client.

“Though it sounds horrible to come before you and say, ‘I really want to go after the victim’s reputation,’ that is simply what the Sixth Amendment tells us we have to do,” O’Mara told the judge.

Nelson authorized his request to subpoena Trayvon’s Twitter and Facebook posts. In self-defense cases, she said, if there’s evidence that a victim had a violent past, it could be relevant.

The accounts were de-activated long ago, O’Mara said, but he believes they will reveal “videos out there that suggest he (Trayvon) involved himself in MMA fighting.”

That’s important because one eye-witness told investigators that he saw Trayvon on top of Zimmerman, straddling him “MMA-style,” a reference to mixed-martial arts fighting, a combination of boxing, wrestling and martial arts.

Zimmerman, a 29-year-old Neighborhood Watch volunteer, shot Trayvon Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. He’s charged with second-degree murder.

The defendant says he acted in self-defense. Prosecutors say he profiled Trayvon, an unarmed black 17-year-old from Miami Gardens, Fla., assuming he was about to commit a crime and began following him.

The judge also ordered Miami-Dade schools to surrender Trayvon’s records to O’Mara. Those, too, are expected to damage his reputation. Police have said Trayvon was serving a 10-day school suspension at the time of his death after being caught with an empty marijuana baggie.

Two hours before the hearing began, Trayvon’s parents held a news conference on the courthouse lawn, saying it would be a travesty if the judge gave O’Mara their son’s school records.

It’s wrong, said Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, “to make a dead child seem as if they’re the perpetrator.”

Family attorney Ben Crump was more strident: It would be the equivalent of blaming a rape victim, saying she asked for it because of the way she dressed.

Although the judge ordered the release of the school records, she pointed out that they will not be released to the media — and unless O’Mara can convince her they’re relevant, jurors will never see them.

Zimmerman said nothing during the hearing. He had entered the building alone, walking through the front doors without fanfare but had put on so much weight — an estimated 40 to 50 pounds — that the two dozen reporters and photographers looking on were unsure it was him.

That gave him enough time to ride the elevator to the fifth floor courtroom without having to dodge cameras.

Overall, it was an extraordinary day of developments in the case.

It was Nelson’s first hearing in the case. She was assigned it in August after an appeals court ordered Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. to step aside.

Nelson started the hearing early and kept attorneys on a short leash, twice ordering them to stop sniping at each other.

She issued several rulings:

—No, she would not seal defense subpoenas or hold closed-door hearings about them, as prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda requested. Her courtroom, she told attorneys, is an open one.

—Yes, prosecutors would get Zimmerman’s medical records, although she would look through them first. De la Rionda said he needs them to reinforce that Zimmerman was not seriously hurt in his fight with Trayvon.

—Yes, defense attorneys were entitled to the phone and social media records of a 16-year-old Miami girl, thought to be one of the state’s most important witnesses. The girl, Trayvon’s girlfriend, told authorities she was on the phone with Trayvon when he and Zimmerman came face to face and that Zimmerman was the aggressor.

But the judge put off a request by de la Rionda for a gag order, something designed to muzzle O’Mara.

The defense attorney has gone on television, set up a website and used social media to issue statements about the case, de la Rionda complained in a motion.

Nelson also delayed until next Friday a decision on what to do with a request by O’Mara to order Sanford police officers who will be witnesses in this case not to talk about their testimony — not even to de la Rionda — before they are deposed.

O’Mara requested that, he wrote in a motion, because Sanford police Sgt. Joseph Santiago testified Thursday that officers and an assistant state attorney closely involved in the case were upset when the lead investigator asked prosecutors to file a manslaughter charge.

That’s because the parties had agreed in daily sessions for more than two weeks that there was not enough evidence to charge Zimmerman with a crime.

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