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Zimmerman judge: Prosecutors can use 'profiled' at trial

Gary W. Green / Pool via Reuters

George Zimmerman during jury selection in his trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla., on June 20.

Prosecutors will be allowed to tell jurors that George Zimmerman "profiled" black teenager Trayvon Martin before their deadly confrontation, as long as they don't use the term exclusively to refer to race, the judge ruled Friday.

Lawyers for Zimmerman, who is of white and Hispanic descent, had asked the Florida court to bar prosecutors from using the term during opening statements, which are slated for Monday morning.

During a pre-trial hearing, assistant state attorney John Guy argued that the word "profiled" doesn't necessarily mean someone was singled out because of their race, but could refer to their age, clothes or type of car they were driving.

Courtesy Sybrina Fulton

Trayvon Martin on Feb. 18, 2012 in a photo taken at his mother's birthday party. Martin was killed on Feb. 26, 2012.

"We don't intend to make it a racially charged term," Guy said.

Defense lawyer Mark O'Mara argued that in the public's mind it would be hard to separate the concept of profiling from race, saying it was like "peanut butter and jelly."

"I'm very very concerned that we now potentially infect the jury with a racial component," O'Mara said.

Judge Debra Nelson ruled that prosecutors should avoid terms such as "racial profiling" but could use profiled alone.

She also said prosecutors can refer to Zimmerman as a "vigilante" or "wannabe cop" in openings, over the objection of the defense.

Nelson said that if prosecutors fail to back that up with evidence, the defense is welcome to point it out in closing arguments at the end of the trial, which is expected to last about four weeks.

Prosecutors contend that Zimmerman, 29, profiled Martin, 17, while he was walking in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., the night of Feb. 26, 2012, and that he confronted the unarmed teen.

The former neighborhood watch volunteer, who has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, claims that Martin attacked him and that he shot him in self-defense.

Six female jurors — five of them white and one black or Hispanic, according to prosecutors — have been selected for the jury, which will be sequestered until they deliver a verdict. Four alternates were also chosen.

Unlike most places, Florida uses six-person juries for criminal felony trials.

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