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Judge weighs gag order in Zimmerman-Trayvon case

5:23 PM, Oct 26, 2012   |    comments
AP
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Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY

5:15PM EDT October 26. 2012 - The judge in the Trayvon Martin case Friday delayed her ruling on whether to impose a gag order but denied a motion to bar lawyers from speaking with witnesses pre-deposition.

She also set a date for a self-defense immunity hearing for several days before the June 10 trial date.

Motions from both the prosecutor and defense attorney to Judge Debra Nelson argued that lawyers should be limited in their communications to the media and to witnesses.

Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda is asking for a gag order to stop attorneys and law enforcement officials from talking to the media about the facts of the case, evidence and witnesses, as well as their opinions about how the case should be resolved.

De la Rionda, arguing for the gag order Friday, said Zimmerman's attorney set up a website and Twitter account to sway potential jurors and invite them to step into Zimmerman's shoes.

"Our position is neither party should be commenting on the evidence," de la Rionda said. "My concern is, are we going to be able to pick a jury in Seminole County or anywhere in Florida?"

De la Rionda entered several posts from a website set up by Zimmerman's defense, gzlegalcase.com, as evidence to make his point.

George Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara denied the claims and argued that Florida law did not bar him from publicly defending him client and advocating on his behalf through the internet and social media.

Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Trayvon on Feb. 26. He told police he shot the 17-year-old in self-defense after the teen repeatedly knocked his head to the ground. Trayvon's family said Zimmerman racially profiled the unarmed black teen and confronted him as he walked home from a convenience store.

INTERACTIVE: What happened that night: A multimedia timeline

O'Mara will ask Nelson to drop the charges against Zimmerman at the self defense immunity hearing.

Meanwhile, several media companies, including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, and CBS News have filed a motion to stop de la Rionda's gag order. They argue that it is not supported by Florida law and would limit the media's ability to gather the news.

"The Media Companies publish and broadcast news throughout Florida, and rely upon comment from trial participants as some of their principal sources of news gathering," according to attorneys for the media companies.

This is de la Rionda 's second attempt at a gag order. In April, Judge Kenneth Lester, who was then presiding over the case, denied the first one.

Nelson also heard arguements by O'Mara that prosecutors have not given him all evidence from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Prosecutors maintained throughout the hearing Friday that the state has turned over all evidence they have from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

De la Rionda also said the FBI and Justice Department are conducting investigations that are separate from the murder case against Zimmerman and have not been asked for further evidence they are using.

O'Mara, saying he's received only 54 pages from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, claimed that the state has not given the defense everything the agencies have including digital copies of all files related to the case.

Nelson reserved her ruling and asked O'Mara to write up a proposed order that would allow the defense to go back to the the Florida officials and ask for any files they have. She added that O'Mara can write up a list of things he believes the FBI and Justice Department have that the defense wants.

If approved, de la Rionda would then be required to check back with the FBI and Justice Department and turn over any new files they provide to the state.

During the more than two hour hearing, Nelson also denied a motion by O'Mara that would have kept lawyers from speaking with witnesses before they are deposed.

Contributing: The Associated Press

USA TODAY

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