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Zimmerman defense releases texts about guns, fighting from Trayvon Martin's phone

Attorneys for George Zimmerman, charged in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, have requested a delay in his trial currently scheduled to begin in less than three weeks, as text messages come to light that the defense says show Martin had "a propensity towards violence."

By Elizabeth Chuck, Jamie Novogrod, and Tom Winter, NBC News

The defense team for George Zimmerman, the man charged with second-degree murder in the Florida shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, has released a trove of texts and photos from Martin's cell phone — but it's not clear whether they'll be admissible in trial.

The newly released evidence, posted to a website run by Zimmerman's defense team on Thursday, includes texts from Martin where he discusses being suspended from school and smoking marijuana. He also shows an interest in guns in several texts.

This comes just days before a key hearing next Tuesday that will determine the admissibility of certain evidence at the trial.

The 25 photos released by Zimmerman's team include some of Martin that have already circulated widely online, as well as some new ones, including one where Martin shows his gold teeth to the camera while sticking up his middle fingers, and a close-up picture of a gun that the defense says was taken from Martin's camera, although it's not evident from the photo who is holding the gun.

Martin, a black 17-year-old, was shot to death by Zimmerman on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla., in a case that set off racial tensions around the country.

Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer of white and Hispanic descent, has pleaded not guilty, claiming he shot Martin in their gated community after Martin attacked him.

In one of the text conversations, sent 12 days before his death, Martin tells a friend he has been suspended from school for fighting.

"Why you not in school?" a text he receives asks.


"I thought you was going out with ur friend," the reply says.

"Naw my ol g say she dont want me home caus she think ima get in mo trouble," he texts back.

Martin's texts also indicate he may have been curious about guns.

"U gotta gun?" reads a text from Martin's phone, sent on Feb. 18, 2012, to a friend of his who was on the phone with him on the night of the shooting.

"You want a 22 revolver" asks someone in a text he receives that day.

Three days later, Martin mentioned a caliber of gun while asking a friend in another text, "U wanna share a .380 w.[redacted]?"

Other texts released allude to problems Martin was having at home and with authorities. 

"My mom just told me i gotta mov wit my dad," says one from Nov. 22, 2011. "She just kickd me out." 

Later that day, a text says, "Da police caught me outta skool." 

Marijuana references are scattered throughout the texts. Some of the newly released photos show Martin blowing smoke and what appear to be marijuana plants.

Jeff Deen, a former assistant state attorney in Florida and the head of a state agency that represents criminal defendants, said that strict rules having to do with character evidence will likely make Martin’s texts and photos inadmissible at trial.

“What does his mom saying he needs to live with his dad for a while say about why he was shot?  Nothing,” he said. “Generally, reputation evidence is not admissible in court.”

But Mark O'Mara, the lead defense attorney for Zimmerman, said he will try to use the new evidence during Zimmerman's trial on June 10.

But an attorney for Martin's family argued that the pretrial evidence release consisted of "irrelevant red herrings."

"Is the defense trying to prove Trayvon deserved to be killed by George Zimmerman because of the way he looked?" Benjamin Crump said in a statement on Thursday.

"If so, this stereotypical and closed-minded thinking is the same mindset that caused George Zimmerman to get out of his car and pursue Trayvon, an unarmed kid who he didn't know. The pretrial release of these irrelevant red herrings is a desperate and pathetic attempt by the defense to pollute and sway the jury pool."

Martin’s death spurred a national conversation about guns and Florida’s expansive “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law, which allows people to use deadly force if they believe they are in danger of being injured or killed.  In April, Zimmerman waived his right to a pre-trial “Stand Your Ground” immunity hearing, guaranteeing his June trial before a jury.

On Thursday evening, Zimmerman's defense team also filed a request for a delay in the trial.

Editor's note: George Zimmerman has sued NBCUniversal for defamation, and the company has strongly denied his allegations.