Judge denies motion to delay Zimmerman trial: Defense accuses prosecutor of withholding evidence



SANFORD, Fla. - Attorneys won't be able to mention Trayvon Martin's drug use, suspension from school and past fighting during opening statements in the trial for George Zimmerman, who fatally shot the teen, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Circuit Judge Debra Nelson also refused to allow jurors to travel to the shooting scene during the trial, and rejected a defense request to delay the trial, set to begin June 10.

The judge also ruled that some of Martin's texts and other social media statements won't be allowed in opening statements, though some of his personal material could be allowed later depending on how the case progresses.

Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, told the judge that Martin's marijuana use and past fighting was central to the argument that Zimmerman used self-defense when he confronted Martin last year at a gated community in Sanford. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder, and has pleaded not guilty.

"We have a lot of evidence that marijuana use had something to do with the event," O'Mara said. "It could have affected his behavior."

WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer believes the defense will get Martin's texts about fighting in because they support the defense theory that Martin was the aggressor.

The judge ruled against a defense request that the pool of jury candidates be sequestered during jury selection. She said jurors will be referred to by their jury numbers and prohibited their faces from being photographed. Nelson denied a prosecution request for a gag order that would prohibit attorneys from talking about the case.

"It's like Trayvon testifying himself," said Sheaffer.

O'Mara said he is concerned potential jurors could be affected by publicity the case is receiving.

Martin family attorneys told reporters after the hearing that they believe the disparaging information about the teenager is not relevant.

George Zimmerman wasn't in court Tuesday. O'Mara said there was no need for him to be there for the hearing.

Channel 9 learned Tuesday that the defense might bring forward a witness at a hearing next week who will testify that the special prosecutor in the case, Bernie de la Rionda, withheld information.

Sheaffer said if that is the case -- that de la Rionda lied to the judge here at the last hearing about evidence from Trayvon Martin's cellphone -- he could be found in criminal contempt, for which jail would be a possible consequence.

The defense had the judge specifically ask de la Rionda at the last court hearing whether he had any more evidence from Martin's cellphone that was not given to the defense. He said he did not.

But the defense said it has been tipped off that the information technology director at de la Rionda's office said de la Rionda was purposely withholding some photos from Martin's phone showing someone holding a handgun, and there were deleted texts about how Martin likes to fight and hurt people, and how he was kicked out of school and kicked out of his mother's house because of his fighting.

Sheaffer calls it unprecedented and said it could lead to serious consequences.

"If the defense can prove the allegations, it may well give rise to a criminal contempt proceeding," said Sheaffer.

The judge ruled Tuesday that the defense can explore that at a hearing next week.

Channel 9's Kathi Belich learned that the Duval County state attorney's information technology director, Ben Kruidbos, is the alleged whistleblower who made the accusations against de la Rionda. His attorney told Belich that the state attorney has put Kruidbos on paid administrative leave. There was no comment from the state attorney's office yet.

 Follow Kathi Belich on Twitter at @KBelichWFTV for live updates.