MIAMI (AP) — George Zimmerman will seek to have second-degree murder charges dismissed under Florida's "stand your ground" law in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, his attorney said Thursday.
The hearing, which likely won't take place for several months, will amount to a mini-trial involving much of the evidence collected by prosecutors as well as expert testimony from both sides.
"Most of the arguments, witnesses, experts and evidence that the defense would muster in a criminal trial will be presented in the 'stand your ground' hearing," said the statement posted by Zimmerman attorney Mark O'Mara on Zimmerman's official defense website.
Although the posting did not say so, legal experts say it's likely that Zimmerman himself would testify since he is the sole survivor of the Feb. 26 confrontation.
Under the "stand your ground" law, Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester can dismiss the charges if Zimmerman conclusively shows he fatally shot Martin because he "reasonably believed" he might be killed or suffer "great bodily harm" at the hands of the unarmed teenager. The law also says a person has no duty to retreat in the face of such a threat.
Janet Johnson, a Jacksonville defense attorney who has represented defendants in other "stand your ground" cases, said Zimmerman has a good chance to win his claim if he can also show he was in a place where he had a legal right to be and that he didn't create the danger.
"Or, if he did, he had abandoned that activity when Mr. Martin 'attacked' him," Johnson said in an email. "There's only one side since Trayvon Martin can't testify."
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, shot Martin after a confrontation in Zimmerman's gated community in the central Florida town of Sanford, where Martin was visiting. The case drew local and nationwide protests because Zimmerman was not arrested for weeks after the shooting. Zimmerman claims Martin punched him and slammed his head against a sidewalk.
Evidence released by prosecutors, the website statement said, shows "clear support for a strong claim of self-defense." The statement urged "everyone to be patient during this process and to reserve judgment until the evidence is presented in the 'stand your ground' hearing."
Martin's parents have contended that Zimmerman singled out their son as he was returning from a convenience store because he was black and that it was Zimmerman's aggression that led to his death. Zimmerman, who is free on $1 million bail, faces a possible life prison sentence if convicted of second-degree murder.
If his "stand your ground" claim succeeds, however, the criminal charges would be dismissed and Zimmerman could not be held liable in any civil action such as a wrongful-death lawsuit. Prosecutors would likely appeal a successful self-defense claim.
A spokeswoman for special prosecutor Angela Corey declined to comment Thursday. Benjamin Crump, attorney for Martin's parents, said in an email he believes the "stand your ground" claim will be denied and that Zimmerman's guilt or innocence will ultimately be decided by a jury.
"Trayvon's parents do not feel that this is a man that feared for his life the night he shot and killed their child, this is a man whose only fear is spending his life in prison," Crump said.
Legal experts have said that Zimmerman's credibility is crucial to his claim and that he undermined his own cause by deceiving the judge about his finances during an April bond hearing. That alleged deception led to perjury charges against Zimmerman's wife, Shellie. She has pleaded not guilty.
Lester remarked that Zimmerman "flaunted the system" by making misleading statements about how much money the couple had raised through online contributions from supporters. The judge, who will also rule on the "stand your ground" claim, revoked Zimmerman's initial $150,000 bond and had him returned to jail. He later llowed him to be released on the higher $1 million figure with additional restrictions.
"His credibility in asserting that he lawfully 'stood his ground' is key and he has been proven to be less than credible in prior dealings with the court," said Johnson, the Jacksonville defense attorney. "The defense will try to limit how much of this comes in."