Judge Debra Nelson charged through a string of motions in a pre-trial hearing this morning, including a ruling that the case will actually go to trial on June 10 as scheduled. The defense had sought a delay because apparently a one-witness case was too difficult to prepare in a mere 16 months or so.
But the real action revolved around the evidentiary rulings. Most of the rulings were pretty straightforward. A little, too straightforward.
What I mean is that most of the evidence at issue was so obviously prejudicial that the only purpose served by attempting to introduce the evidence is to take advantage of press coverage to poison the well of potential jurors…
The prosecution filed a number of motions in limine to bar the defense from referencing texts from Trayvon Martin that suggest past marijuana use and school fights, as well as evidence of past school suspensions. The defense contended that these are probative of its theory that since Trayvon punched a kid at school, he obviously deserved to get shot. Or something.
The prosecution also prevailed in barring the defense from pointing out that Trayvon had gold teeth, which crossed over into the “we can’t even spin how this is potentially probative with a straight face” realm.
Besides, this isn’t even evidence the defense needs in the case, because Trayvon was wearing a hoodie, and if Geraldo Rivera has taught us anything, it’s that hoodies = justifiable homicide. And that the key to bad television is two-hours of tearing down a brick wall.
The evidence at issue was only barred from the opening statements, and Judge Nelson reserved the right to decide the ultimate fate of each request on a case-by-case basis. So it can still come up later in the trial if the case veers in a direction that renders this stuff much more probative than it would seem at first blush.
But since no lawyer could have expected this evidence to come in, the defense likely had an ulterior motive for pushing to introduce the evidence. It’s like the recent case where Howard Greenberg responded to a judge’s admonition to “not go there” in front of the juror with “I’ve already gone there, judge.” Once these claims aimed at impugning the victim’s character are known, the toothpaste is hard to put back in the tube.
The heightened public interest in the case, coupled with the extreme openness of Florida’s judicial process means all but the most reserved shut-ins in Seminole County now know that Trayvon Martin might have smoked pot and gotten into fights. That makes for a stellar jury pool.
To that end:
The defense asked that the jury sequestered from the start of the trial, which is slated to begin June 10, but the judge denied the motion. Jurors will be referred to be number, not name, during the selection process, however.
So the jurors are unlikely to get harassed during the trial, but they’ll be on the honor system to shield themselves from the s**tstorm of talking head analysis of every day’s testimony.
Open trials are generally a good thing. Star Chambers are bad and all. But when that openness turns a courtroom into a contemporaneous circus a second-guessing and slanted conjecture no one wins.
Except Nancy Grace.