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Trayvon Martin case: Hearing raises possible conflict of interest for judge

NBC News' Ron Allen joins from Sanford, Florida, where reports of conflicts of interest are surfacing with the case against George Zimmerman, the man charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin. MSNBC's Thomas Roberts and  former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey discuss the case and the bail hearing Zimmerman's defense team requested for the upcoming week.

 

Updated 2:26 p.m. ET: A brief court hearing Friday in the case of George Zimmerman, the Florida man charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, focused on the possibility that the judge could be replaced because of a possible conflict of interest.

Seminole County Circuit Judge Jessica J. Recksiedler disclosed that her husband, an attorney who deals with civil cases, works in the same firm as Mark NeJame, a criminal lawyer who had been previously contacted by Zimmerman for counsel.

NeJame did not take Zimmerman as a client, but he now has a contract with CNN to provide analysis on the case.


 

Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O’Mara, raised concerns that Recksiedler’s role as a judge who is tangentially connected to NeJame as a media analyst could be problematic, especially in a case that he noted will come under "intense scrutiny" over coming months by the press and activists.

O’Mara can file to disqualify Recksiedler, the judge said, but she asked him to make the request prior to the scheduled bail hearing set for next Friday if he decides to do so.

Recksiedler is a former assistant state attorney from Sanford who was elected to the bench in 2010.

Zimmerman did not appear for Friday's hearing. Prosecuting and defense attorneys spoke to the judge via speakerphone.

Seeking bail
O'Mara said Thursday he will try to get his client out of jail on bail for what is likely to be a lengthy legal battle over the shooting death of Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old black youth.

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O'Mara will argue that the 28-year-old Zimmerman should be allowed to post bail at an April 20 hearing and remain free pending trial.

Zimmerman spent a second night in jail after making his first court appearance Thursday before a Seminole County judge. Zimmerman spoke only once during the hearing, responding "Yes, sir" when asked if he had an attorney.

After the brief hearing, O'Mara told reporters outside his Orlando office that people should respect his client's right to a fair trial.

"He needs to be safe, but he doesn't need to be in a jail to be safe," O'Mara said. "He just has to be left alone and let the process work."

Arraignment is scheduled for May 29.

Zimmerman, whose mother is Hispanic and father white, says he shot Martin in self-defense after he was punched and slammed against the ground during a confrontation in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26. The encounter came after Zimmerman called police to report seeing what he called "a real suspicious guy."

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The special prosecutor in the case, Angela Corey, hasn’t specified what evidence she has to back up the second-degree murder charge. But in an affidavit released Thursday, prosecutors said Zimmerman “profiled” the hooded teen, continued to follow him after being told by a dispatcher that he shouldn't, and "confronted him." A struggle ensued and Martin was shot in the chest.

To prove second-degree murder, prosecutors must show that Zimmerman committed an "imminently dangerous" act that showed a "depraved" lack of regard for human life. The charge carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison and a maximum of life.

Meanwhile, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Friday shows most Americans support the right to use deadly force to protect themselves.

Most of the 1,922 people surveyed nationwide Monday through Thursday said they support laws that allow citizens to use deadly force to protect themselves from danger in their own home or in a public place.

"Americans do hold to this idea that people should be allowed to defend themselves and using deadly force is fine, in those circumstances," pollster Chris Jackson said, according to Reuters. "In the theoretical ... there's a certain tolerance of vigilantism."

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