The judge in the Florida case of George Zimmerman has decided to release recordings of 145 additional phone calls Zimmerman made from the Seminole County jail, as well as the statement of a witness who claims the accused murderer doesn't like black people.
The move on Friday by Seminole County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Lester comes over objections by Zimmerman’s attorneys — and a day after an FBI finding of no evidence that the accused killer of Trayvon Martin is a racist.
Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic white man, is charged with second-degree murder in the Feb. 26 shooting death of Martin, a 17-year-old black teen.
According to the Orlando Sentinel
, Lester wrote in an order filed on Friday that public-records law requires the release of evidence, unless it would present a “serious and imminent threat to the administration of justice.”
The statement, Lester writes, does not reach that high bar.
Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, had asked that the statement in Friday’s order from “Witness 9” — as the woman is identified in prosecution documents — remain withheld from the public. He contended that the statement was not relevant to the case and that it would “serve to reignite and potentially enhance the widespread public hostility toward Mr. Zimmerman,” the Sentinel reports. Another statement had been made public.
O’Mara also asked Lester to seal 145 of 151 jail phone calls made by Zimmerman, arguing they're irrelevant to the case and the people his client talked to have a right to privacy.
The judge rejected that argument. People called by an inmate, he wrote, “are specifically advised that their calls will be recorded,” the Sentinel reports.
It was not clear when the additional evidence would be released. The order came as Zimmerman requested a new judge in the case to replace Lester.
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, Reuters reported.
"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 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 attorney O'Mara 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.
Zimmerman claims self-defense in the Feb. 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.
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