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George Zimmerman deserves new judge in Martin murder case, panel rules; A.G. plans no appeal

Trayvon Martin, left, and George Zimmerman

New evidence still leaves questions about Trayvon Martin shooting
Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman
CBS
(CBS/AP) ORLANDO, Fla. - A three-judge panel has ruled that former Fla. neighborhood watch leader George Zimmerman should be granted a new judge in his second-degree murder case for the fatal shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin.

Pictures: George Zimmerman crime scene photos

Florida's Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday that Judge Kenneth Lester should enter a motion to disqualify himself in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder case. Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara asked the court earlier this month to overturn a previous ruling by Lester not to leave the case.

One of the three judges dissented in the ruling.

O'Mara had argued that Lester should disqualify himself after he said the judge made disparaging remarks about Zimmerman's character and advocated for additional charges against him in setting his $1 million bond in July.

Zimmerman remains free on bail. He's pleaded not guilty claiming self-defense in the fatal Feb. 26 shooting of Martin, 17, in a gated community in Sanford, Fla.

"... this is admittedly a close call," wrote Judge C. Alan Lawson, but Lester's actions, taken in total, meet the legal standard requiring him to step aside, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

A second judge, Jay Cohen, agreed. The third panel member, Kerry Evander, disagreed.

Evander wrote, "Although the trial court's order clearly manifested an exceedingly strong belief by the trial judge that Zimmerman had 'flouted' and 'tried to manipulate' the system, I do not believe the order 'crossed the line' so as to require the granting of his motion.'

The Sentinel reported there will be no appeal, according to Florida's Office of Attorney General, which had argued in court paperwork that Lester should stay. He was not biased, wrote Assistant Attorney General Pamela Koller. He had merely given Zimmerman a "well-deserved tongue lashing."

Special Prosecutor Angela Corey's office, the one in charge of putting Zimmerman on trial, had no comment.

According to the newspaper, on the web page of Zimmerman attorney Mark O'Mara's law firm, O'Mara wrote that he expects a new judge to be assigned to the case soon.

The next step is for the chief judge of the circuit, Circuit Judge Alan Dickey in Sanford, to assign the case to a new judge. It's expected to be Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson, 59, another felony trial judge in Sanford who has a reputation for handing down tough sentences, the Sentinel reported.

She would be Zimmerman's third judge. In April, Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler stepped aside after O'Mara filed a similar motion. That time, however, according to the newspaper, it was because Recksiedler's husband is the law partner of Mark NeJame, an Orlando lawyer who's being paid to do case commentary by CNN.

Complete coverage of the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case on Crimesider


  • Barry Leibowitz

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