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George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, has himself become a victim. That was the message today from Zimmerman's lawyers, who were in court asking a judge to loosen the terms of his release on bail. The judge refused.
But as NPR's Greg Allen reports, the hearing gave a preview of some of the arguments expected if the case goes to trial.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's been nearly 10 months since that February night in Sanford when George Zimmerman became suspicious of someone he saw in his community and followed him. It was 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on his way home with Skittles and a can of ice tea. In the ensuing confrontation, Zimmerman says there was a struggle for his gun which ended with him killing the teenager. Zimmerman was charged with murder. At a hearing today in Sanford, his lawyers and prosecutors sparred over what's emerging as a key piece of evidence: a 911 call the night of the shooting placed by a neighbor.
(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Help.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: So you think he's yelling help?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: All right, what is your (unintelligible) number?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Just - there's gunshots.
ALLEN: Zimmerman's lawyers say it was their client repeatedly calling for help that night, and they say they've just learned of a witness who confirms that story. They're asking prosecutors to produce any other witnesses who have heard the tape and expressed an opinion. But the most lively part of today's hearing dealt with Zimmerman lawyer Mark O'Mara's request that the judge loosen his client's conditions of release, removing him from GPS monitoring and allowing him to leave Seminole County and move freely throughout Florida. O'Mara told the judge Zimmerman and his wife are forced to live in hiding because of threats against them. And he said there's something else.
MARK O'MARA: The very issue of his innocence is an issue for you to consider.
ALLEN: There's evidence, O'Mara said, that Zimmerman acted in self-defense and shouldn't be charged with murder. That drew a heated rebuttal from prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda. De la Rionda rejected O'Mara's contention that Zimmerman's bail conditions should be loosened so he and his wife can live safely out of the public eye.
BERNIE DE LA RIONDA: You can't have it both ways. You can't have it where you want all this publicity or you keep bringing up the publicity, you keep bringing up the case, that is the defense does, and then argue that it's unsafe for him there. Who's generating all this publicity? Why are we here really for this motion? Is it more for publicity? Maybe it's for autographs.
ALLEN: De la Rionda is referring to a recent posting on a website set up to collect money for Zimmerman's legal defense. Zimmerman said he would be sending signed thank you notes to contributors. In a motion, the prosecutor argued that many of the defense tactics are an attempt by Zimmerman to, quote, "claim the mantle of victimhood for himself." After the hearing, with reporters, O'Mara did nothing to contradict that assertion. He said there's a witness who saw Zimmerman being beaten by Trayvon Martin, plus a newly released photo showing his client's injuries.
O'MARA: Under that scenario, the suggestion that he should be focused on and hated by a nation, to me, is absurd and makes him a victim.
ALLEN: In court, prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda charged that much of the information brought forward by O'Mara is aimed at raising money for his defense and perhaps influencing potential jurors. But he says it shouldn't distract from the facts at the center of the case.
RIONDA: There's no dispute that this defendant shot an unarmed 17-year-old young man. There's no dispute that this defendant followed that young man. He could have stayed in the car when the police told him don't follow him, but he didn't. What occurred there, it will come out at the trial.
ALLEN: If there's a trial. Trial is set for June, but Zimmerman's lawyers say, before that, they'll seek a special hearing under Florida's Stand Your Ground law. Under that law, if they can show their client acted in self-defense, Zimmerman will be immune from prosecution. Greg Allen, NPR News, Sanford, Florida. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.