The judge in the George Zimmerman murder case said Friday that defense attorneys may not grill Benjamin Crump, the high-profile, often-on-TV attorney who made the Trayvon Martin shooting into a national civil-rights issue.
Defense attorney Don West asked Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson to let him depose Crump on a wide variety of issues, including Crump's contention that Sanford police and then-State Attorney Norm Wolfinger had engaged in a criminal conspiracy to cover up the teenager's death.
Crump alleged that then-Police Chief Bill Lee met with Wolfinger the night of Trayvon's death, Feb. 26, and the two agreed to release Zimmerman without an arrest.
Wolfinger says that meeting never happened.
Crump has also accused Sanford police of falsifying a report, something else that would be a crime.
"We have the right to investigate that and what evidence he has to support that seemingly outrageous statement," West said.
Crump was not at Friday's hearing, but his attorney, Bruce Blackwell, called defense attorneys' request "an absolute sideshow."
Crump was not at the scene of the killing, Blackwell said.
"He wasn't there. He doesn't know if a fight took place," he said.
Anything defense attorneys might learn from Crump, Blackwell said, "has nothing to do with what you're going to admit at trial."
Zimmerman is the former Neighborhood Watch volunteer charged with second-degree murder for shooting Trayvon, an unarmed black 17-year-old. Zimmerman says he acted in self-defense.
The defendant was not at Friday's hearing, a 1 1/2-hour affair that saw attorneys spar over a short list of evidence disputes that will likely have little impact on Zimmerman's trial. And, as has become typical, Zimmerman's team did not fare well.
The judge also rejected their request for make prosecutors hand over the home addresses of Trayvon's mother, father, brother and the young Miami woman who is the state's most important witness.
She is Witness 8, who was on the phone with Trayvon moments before he was killed.
O'Mara and West want her address, as well as those of Trayvon's family members, to investigate them before taking their depositions next month in South Florida. That would allow defense attorneys to challenge them then about inconsistent statements, a history of lying or other embarrassing things.
Zimmerman's attorneys made clear Friday that they intend to aggressively go after Witness 8. West pointed out that she was 18 when Trayvon was shot, even though Crump told reporters at a news conference in March that she was 16.
Information about the "critically important" witness, West said, has been "cloaked in mystery."
Not so, said Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda. Defense attorneys have known her name since April. They did a mini-deposition earlier this month and also know her date of birth and online handles.
They don't need her home address and shouldn't get it now because her privacy and safety may be at risk, he said
"This witness is scared," de la Rionda said.
It's not clear what the judge will do about an even more intrusive request filed by defense attorneys Thursday: They've asked for all medical records about her for a six-week stretch following Trayvon's death.
That's apparently to check a story that she was unable to attend his funeral because she was in the hospital.
Most of the hearing was spent debating what to do with Crump. During that hourlong argument, Blackwell confirmed that Crump plans to sue Zimmerman on behalf of Trayvon's parents.
And after West argued that the judge's earlier decision against a trial delay had left defense attorneys "desperately running out of time," she pushed back, lecturing him and co-counsel Mark O'Mara about their deposition schedule.
"Witness 8 has been known to the defense for ten months and that deposition has not been taken," she said.
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