World and Nation

Judge in Trayvon Martin case denies request for silence

MIAMI — The judge in the Trayvon Martin murder case on Monday denied a prosecution request to bar lawyers for George Zimmerman from using a website about legal issues, as well as social and traditional news media, to comment about the case.

“There has not been an overriding pattern of prejudicial commentary that will overcome reasonable efforts to select a fair and impartial jury,” Judge Debra S. Nelson of Seminole County Circuit Court said in her ruling.

This is the second time the prosecution’s request has been denied. In April, Judge Kenneth Lester, the previous judge in the case, rejected a motion that lawyers be silenced on the Zimmerman matter outside the courtroom. Lawyers in the case sparred during a hearing Friday over whether the prohibition, which also would have applied to the prosecution, was necessary to ensure an impartial jury. A trial is scheduled for June 10.

Lawyers for several news media organizations, including The New York Times, also had gone to court to oppose the request.

Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder in the Feb. 26 shooting death of Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, as he walked to a house in a Sanford, Fla., gated community where he was a guest. Zimmerman, who is free on bail, was the neighborhood watch leader and told the police that Martin appeared suspicious. The killing provoked widespread anger and attention around the country, calling into question Florida’s gun laws and whether racial profiling played a role in the killing of Martin, who was black.

Prosecutors requested the order again, arguing that Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s lawyer, was jeopardizing the trial by making prejudicial statements to the traditional media and using a legal blog, Facebook page and Twitter posts to disseminate his opinions. The Facebook page is no longer active.

“Why was this website created?” Bernie de la Rionda, the prosecutor in the case, asked in court Friday. “Was it done to influence public opinion? I would submit that is the real reason.”

But O’Mara told the judge Friday that he made the unusual move of creating a legal website and using social media as a way to counter the volumes of negative publicity that surround Zimmerman. O’Mara said that early on in the case, the Martin family, through their attorneys and a publicist, unleashed a campaign to “sway national opinion” by portraying Zimmerman as a racist.

This is “why today he is wearing a bulletproof vest and living in hiding,” O’Mara said.