George Zimmerman's attorney on Monday asked for a new judge in the Trayvon Martin case, citing a conflict of interest with the current judge Jessica Recksiedler, Fox News confirms.
Top legal experts told FoxNews.com that the intense media coverage and inflamed emotions surrounding the case will make it extremely difficult for George Zimmerman to get a fair trial in the Florida community where he is accused of murder in the racially charged shooting of Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman, 28, was charged with second-degree murder last week in the shooting of the 17-year-old Martin in a gated community near Orlando. A six-week delay in Zimmerman’s arrest inspired protests nationwide – with many claiming the unarmed black teenager’s killing was racially motivated. Numerous celebrities spoke out against Zimmerman and even President Obama weighed in on the case, saying that if he had a son, he “would look like Trayvon.”
Those factors could make it hard to empanel an impartial jury in Sanford, Fla., according to Harvard Law Prof. Alan Dershowitz, who advised the O.J. Simpson legal team and whose defense of Claus Von Bulow inspired the film “Reversal of Fortune.”
“I do not believe that Zimmerman could get a fair trial in the location where the alleged crime occurred,” said Dershowitz. “For me, the major criteria of a fair trial is could a juror who voted to acquit feel safe back in his community, feel that he wouldn’t be hassled or criticized by community members.”
Mark Bederow, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, said the apparent bias in media coverage of the case makes it difficult to find jurors who haven’t already formed opinions about Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence.
“When media is distorting the actual information, that’s very concerning,” said Bederow, who pointed specifically to NBC News’ running of an edited 911 call made by Zimmerman.
NBC's "Today" show ran the edited audio of Zimmerman's phone call to a police dispatcher in which Zimmerman says: "'This guy looks like he's up to no good … he looks black."
But the audio recording in its entirety reveals that Zimmerman did not volunteer the information that Martin was black. Instead, Zimmerman was answering a question from a police dispatcher about the race of the "suspicious person" whom Zimmerman was speaking about.
“By deliberately doctoring the 911 calls in order to make it appear that Zimmerman was a racist in order to advance the racial component of the story, NBC perpetrated a fraud upon the American public to the great detriment of Zimmerman’s ability to receive a fair trial,” Bederow told FoxNews.com.
Finding jurors in the community who have not made up their minds will require casting a wide net, said Lawrence Lustberg, a former federal public defender and New Jersey-based criminal defense lawyer .
“Jury selection is extremely important… it’s an enormous challenge,” said Lustberg, who noted other potential challenges like “evidentiary issues” over what is admissible in court.
Lustberg, however, stressed that the most critical factor in every case is the quality of the legal representation.
“The single most important thing as to whether you get a fair trial is who’s the prosecutor, who’s the defense attorney and who’s the judge?” he said.
Newscore contributed to this report.