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Florida judge delays gag order ruling in Trayvon Martin case

Judge Debra Nelson listens to arguments in the Travyon Martin murder case during a hearing in Sanford, Florida October 26, 2012. REUTERS/Geo
Judge Debra Nelson listens to arguments in the Travyon Martin murder case during a hearing in Sanford, Florida October 26, 2012. REUTERS/Geo

SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - A Florida judge on Friday delayed her ruling on whether to impose a gag order in the case of George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch captain charged with fatally shooting unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.

During a hearing in Seminole County Circuit Court, Judge Debra Nelson said that she plans to issue her ruling on Monday. A gag order would ban media, lawyers and others from publicly discussing the case.

Prosecutors have requested one, arguing that Zimmerman's lawyer, Mark O'Mara, has used a website set up to help Zimmerman and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to publicly discuss the case, potentially tainting any possible jury.

In Friday's hearing, Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda said O'Mara questioned the credibility of witnesses and discussed evidence in his comments, affecting the ability to carry out a fair trial.

"We should just argue in the public square instead of a courtroom," he said. "What's the point of having a trial?"

O'Mara denied the claims, saying Zimmerman, 29, has faced a "tidal wave" of inaccurate information.

Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder for shooting Martin, 17, who was walking home from a convenience store in Sanford, a city in central Florida. Zimmerman says he acted in self-defense in a struggle with Martin and has pled not guilty.

O'Mara said he started the www.gzlegalcase.com website to respond to information circulating on the Internet and in the media and to questions from reporters about the case.

Several media companies, including the Miami Herald, NBC News and CNN, have filed a motion challenging de la Rionda's latest gag order request. Lawyers for the media organizations argued against limiting information in the case on Friday.

A previous judge in the case rejected the prosecution's earlier request for a gag order, saying attorneys on both sides had done a good job dealing with the media spotlight in the case.

Zimmerman's case attracted national media interest and triggered public outrage because police initially declined to arrest him. He is currently free on a $1 million bond and living in an undisclosed location near Sanford awaiting his trial, which is due to begin June 10.

(Reporting by Saundra Amrhein; Writing by Kevin Gray; Editing by Paul Simao)

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