Sixteen months after he shot and killed Trayvon Martin in a gated community in Florida in an incident that became a microcosm for the national conversation on race and guns and so much more, 29-year-old George Zimmerman goes on trial for murder beginning today. And after the selection of an all-female, almost all-white jury with apparent predilections toward gun rights, Zimmerman's legal team just won another key pre-trial decision: The judge in the case ruled over the weekend that damaging testimony from state audio experts regarding the 911 call heard across the country will not be allowed in court at any point during the potentially month-long trial.
Judge Debra Nelson, who had ruled out the defense's push for evidence on Martin's history of "violence" and marijuana use, announced on Saturday morning that two key witnesses for the prosecution had been ruled out as well. Audio experts Tom Owen and Alan Reich combined to provide the story line that the emergency call essentially featured Martin screaming for his life, and that the screams were not coming from Zimmerman, who has pled not guilty and claimed self-defense. Judge Nelson will allow the call to be played in front of jurors, and for the prosecution to call friends and family who are more familiar with Martin's voice than these two audio geeks, but the move is seen as "a huge victory for the defense, no question about it," according to one of the many experts you're going to see on HLN over the next few weeks. (The four-week sequester of the jury suggests the trial could last from 2-4 weeks.)
According to a CNN poll released on Monday, 62 percent of Americans think the second-degree murder charges against Zimmerman "are probably or definitely true," but he appears to have more of an advantage where the opinions actually matter to him: in front of the six jurors at Seminole County Courthouse. Indeed, the defense's victory on the 911 analysts arrived on the heels of a jury selection that is at least in part gun-friendly. As CBS News and The Orlando Sentinel noted, the all-female jury includes one woman who saw the protests calling for Zimmerman's arrest as "rioting," and she and her husband possess concealed carry permits. Another juror is "a married white woman who warned her two adolescent children not to go out at night because of Martin's shooting," and she said her husband had guns; she doesn't seem to be a clear win for the defense, but like so much of this trial, Zimmerman's defense is looking better than it did in a firestorm of national debate last year — and there remain many more complex legal questions than firm, debate-ending answers.
UPDATE: Those opening statements got very weird.