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George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer charged with shooting unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, was back in court today. The judge denied a request by Zimmerman's lawyers to delay the trial for five months. They had hoped for more time to prepare their case.
From Sanford, Florida, NPR's Greg Allen reports that today's hearing coincided with a commemoration of what would have been Trayvon Martin's 18th birthday.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Outside the county courthouse in Sanford today, there was singing.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T GONNA LET NO HATRED TURN ME AROUND")
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) I ain't going to let no hatred turn me around, no hatred, turn me around, no, turn me around...
ALLEN: More than a dozen singers representing churches and civil rights groups gathered to Mark Trayvon Martin's 18th birthday. It was one of a series of events to remember the teenager who, just under a year ago, was shot and killed in a Sanford townhome community where he was staying. George Zimmerman says he acted in self-defense during an altercation. He now awaits trial on second-degree murder charges. His lawyer says he'll probably ask for immunity from prosecution under Florida's Stand Your Ground law. Zimmerman was in court today, wearing a suit and striped tie. His lawyer, Mark O'Mara, also noted the significance of the day.
MARK O'MARA: Sometimes, we get caught up in everything that we do, and we lose fact of the sight of what happened that night. And no matter what, tragedy occurred, and that one family has a special burden to bear today.
ALLEN: But the main reason O'Mara was in court today was to ask for more time, for a continuance that would delay the trial till November. O'Mara complained to the judge about something he's brought up in court several times before, what he says is a lack of cooperation from prosecutors. He talked about the long delay in getting access to Trayvon Martin's cellphone and his phone records. Another contentious issue involves a key witness, Trayvon Martin's girlfriend, who says she was on the phone with the teenager minutes before he was killed.
O'Mara says prosecutors and the attorney for Trayvon Martin's family, Benjamin Crump, have dragged their feet in providing information about the girlfriend. In court, assistant state attorney Bernie de la Rionda vigorously opposed O'Mara's request for a delay.
BERNIE DE LA RIONDA: I find it ironic that the defense complains that they're now having to address all these issues that with all due respect to the defense, they helped create.
ALLEN: There was a delay, de la Rionda said, while a judge was removed and a new judge appointed, a chain of events that began when Zimmerman and his wife misled the court about their finances. And while he's filed requests for two gag orders, the prosecutor said, O'Mara has actively fed media interest in the case.
RIONDA: I've never had a case - maybe here in Central Florida, it's a normal thing -where the defense creates their own website, creates their own Facebook, creates their own Twitter and just publishes stuff out there, encourages discussion among various groups.
ALLEN: De la Rionda said all the publicity - plus a lack of money as Zimmerman's defense fund has dwindled - may be what's really behind O'Mara's request for more time. In the end, Judge Debra Nelson saw it de la Rionda's way. She denied the defense team's request, telling them the trial will begin as scheduled in June. O'Mara told the judge he'll do his best but can't possibly have expert witnesses ready in two months when he's said he expects to request a Stand Your Ground immunity hearing for his client.
After the hearing outside the courthouse, O'Mara acknowledged Zimmerman and his wife were almost out of money. The lack of funds and time, he said, make it increasingly difficult to mount a top-notch defense for his client.
O'MARA: So that's the conundrum that we're in. You know, unfortunately, we're going to now be trying this case without the experts we need to try it right, and maybe an appellate court will look at that. We'll see.
ALLEN: O'Mara says he's still confident George Zimmerman will be found innocent, but he's already looking at his options for a possible appeal. Greg Allen, NPR News, Sanford, Florida. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.