Assistant state attorney Bernie de la Rionda, left, and lead defense attorney Mark O’Mara leave the courtroom after addressing a series of pre-trial issues with Judge Debra Nelson during George Zimmerman’s trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla., Friday, June 21, 2013. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Gary W. Green, Pool)
SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Prosecutors in Florida can argue in opening statements that George Zimmerman profiled Trayvon Martin based on factors such as age or clothing before he shot the unarmed black teenager, but they cannot say he was profiled based on race, a judge ruled Friday.
Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson made the ruling ahead of Monday’s expected opening statements in Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial.
Defense attorneys had asked the judge to prohibit prosecutors from using a series of words in opening statements that they deemed inflammatory. Those words included “profiled,” ”vigilante,” ”wannabe cop,” and that Zimmerman had confronted Martin. Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic.
The judge said all of those statements may be used, provided that race is not discussed if the issue of profiling is brought up.
Prosecutor John Guy had argued that there were a number of ways someone could be profiled other than race.
“That is not a racially charged term unless it’s made so, and we don’t intend to make it a racially charged term,” Guy said. “There are a number of avenues someone can be profiled in any one way or combination. We don’t intend to say he was solely profiled because of race.”
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara said he was concerned using the word “profiled” would “infect” the jury with a racial component that shouldn’t be there.
“I want to be very, very cautious,” O’Mara said.
Six female jurors were chosen Thursday for the second-degree murder trial of Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer who says he fired on Martin in self-defense last year in a gated community in Sanford. Zimmerman is pleading not guilty.
The judge has yet to rule on whether a prosecution expert can testify that screams for help captured on a 911 call came from Martin. Defense attorneys don’t want the expert to testify, claiming his analysis is flawed.
Prosecutors have said Zimmerman, 29, profiled the 17-year-old Martin as he walked back through the central Florida community from a convenience store on a rainy night in February 2012 wearing a dark hooded shirt.
Race and ethnicity have played a prominent role in the case and even clouded jury selection. While the court did not release the racial makeup of the jury, the panel appeared to reporters covering the selection process to be made up of five white women and a sixth who may be Hispanic.
On Feb. 26, 2012, Zimmerman spotted Martin, whom he did not recognize, walking in the gated townhome community in Sanford where Zimmerman lived and the fiancee of Martin’s father also resided. There had been a rash of recent break-ins at the Retreat, and Zimmerman was wary of strangers walking through the complex.
The two eventually got into a struggle and Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest with his 9mm handgun. He was charged 44 days after the shooting, only after a special prosecutor was appointed to review the case and after protests.
Martin’s shooting death and the initial decision not to charge Zimmerman led to public outrage and demonstrations around the nation, with civil rights leaders and others accusing Sanford police of failing to thoroughly investigate the shooting.
The six jurors were culled from a pool of 40 candidates who made it into a second round of jury questioning. Two men and two women also were picked as alternate jurors.