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Judge Throws Out Part Of Zimmerman Libel Case Against NBC

By Rene Stutzman and Jeff Weiner, Orlando Sentinel

SANFORD, Fla. — A judge Thursday threw out part of George Zimmerman’s libel suit against NBC Universal and held out the prospect that she may throw out the whole thing.

Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson tossed the allegations related to one of five broadcasts and said she needs to do more homework before deciding about the others.

Zimmerman is suing the media company, alleging that it falsely portrayed him as a racist.

He is the Neighborhood Watch volunteer acquitted last year of murdering Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, a shooting that prompted civil rights rallies.

In December 2012, Zimmerman sued NBC, accusing it of “yellow journalism” for the way it edited his call to police the night of the shooting. Editors cut out key phrases, according to the suit, making it sound as if Zimmerman volunteered that Trayvon was black and that he racially profiled the Miami Gardens high school junior.

The suit also says Zimmerman should be paid damages because the company falsely reported that during that call, Zimmerman used a racial epithet.

NBC’s attorneys contend that Zimmerman has no valid claim.

The most important point, said NBC attorney Lee Levine, is that Zimmerman was a public figure and cannot prove that NBC employees acted with “actual malice” — that they either knew what they reported was false or had grave misgivings about it.

The phrase that NBC employees interpreted as a racial slur, Levine said, was “very difficult to understand or decipher” and other news organizations reported that same thing, he said — that it was a racial epithet.

As for the editing, the network should not be held liable for reporting truthfully what Zimmerman’s actually said, Levine argued. Other news organizations also edited the tape, relying solely on excerpts, he said.

The judge Thursday threw out the claim that NBC and employee Jeff Burnside defamed Zimmerman in a March 19, 2012, broadcast. Zimmerman can’t claim he was wronged by that report, the judge said, because his letter to the network never identified that specific broadcast and he never gave notice to Burnside.

The other broadcasts were on March 20 (two separate newscasts), March 22, and March 27.

The judge said she would decide later what to do about them.

The hearing started shortly after 10 a.m. and concluded shortly before 11 a.m.

Zimmerman did not attend.

NBC’s attorneys have raised several defenses, some of them technical. In paperwork filed before the hearing, they contended that any harm Zimmerman claims to have suffered was not caused by the NBC news reports that are at issue.

Zimmerman’s attorney, James Beasley Jr., told the judge Thursday that it would be a mistake to throw out the case now before he can gather evidence.

He pointed out that NBC apologized for the edits and that two employees, Burnside and Lilia Rodriguez Luciano, were fired.

Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder but was acquitted by a six-member Seminole County jury last year.

NBC is represented by several lawyers, including those with the Tampa law firm Thomas and LoCicero, the same firm that represents the Orlando Sentinel.

Photo via AFP

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George Zimmerman Asks For ‘Clean Slate’ In New Video Interview

By Jeff Weiner and Rene Stutzman, Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — In a new video posted online by his divorce attorneys, George Zimmerman calls himself a family man and discusses his portrayal in the media and his hope that people will come to think about him “the way I do with everyone else.”

“I would love for people just to have a clean slate, just no prejudice, just think of me as me the person, not who I’ve been portrayed as by the media, by the state, by the government, whomever it may be,” he says.

The video was posted on the website of the Ayo & Iken firm, which is representing Zimmerman. His wife, Shellie Zimmerman, 26, filed for divorce Sept. 5.

Zimmerman, who was acquitted of murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin at trial last year, does not directly comment on the divorce. Much of what he does discuss has previously been reported:

  • He addresses his heritage: His father is an American-born man of German descent, who retired from the U.S. Army and later served as a magistrate in Virginia. His mother is Peruvian and a former deputy clerk of court, also in Virginia. His great grandfather was Afro-Peruvian. To me, I’m an American and I think that’s what an American is, is a melting pot of different ethnicities,” he says.
  • Zimmerman talks about handing out fliers after a Sanford police lieutenant’s son was caught on video sucker-punching Sherman Ware, an African-American man. Zimmerman says that, after his arrest in Trayvon’s death, he was thanked for his efforts by a jail chaplain, who gave him socks. “I never expected that the efforts I made for Mr. Ware would ever come back and benefit me in any way,” he says.
  • He talks about volunteering, with his wife, to mentor African-American siblings. Zimmerman describes playing basketball and visiting the science center with his mentee, and taking the youth to see Dwight Howard, the former Orlando Magic star. The children he met through mentoring “still remember me for all of the good things that we were able to do together,” Zimmerman says, adding: “A lot of kids ask me if I could be their mentor still and that really strikes a chord with me.”
  • He says the media has not portrayed him accurately: “Absolutely not, and I think that people, once they meet me face to face … typically, 99 percent of the time, they’ll tell me, ‘You’re nothing like the media portrayed,” Zimmerman says.
  • Zimmerman describes having to “look over my shoulder” whenever he’s in public, “always concerned for others around me.” He says he’s often recognized when he’s out of the house. “It’s difficult and it’s something that I didn’t ask for, but it’s been placed on me, and so I have to try my best to adapt to it,” he says in the interview.
  • He also says he wants to eventually finish his college education and become a civil rights or defense attorney. “On a grand scale, I would like to make enough of an impact to change the judicial system to guarantee that what happened to me never happens again to anybody,” Zimmerman says.

Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon, a black 17-year-old from Miami Gardens, Feb. 26, 2012 in Sanford. He wasn’t immediately arrested by police, sparking international outrage and debate about racial profiling and self-defense laws.

Zimmerman was later charged, but was acquitted at trial. He says he fired in self-defense after Trayvon attacked him. Prosecutors alleged he profiled the teen as a criminal, then pursued, confronted and killed him.

Since his acquittal, Zimmerman has rarely been out of the media spotlight, for everything from traffic stops, to domestic incidents and, most recently, an appearance at a local gun show.

Near the beginning of the video, Zimmerman is asked: Who is George Zimmerman?

“That’s a great question,” he replies. “I’m figuring that out every day. I try and be a good person, a faithful person, a family man. But I do realize that I’ve been through a lot in life, and for better or for worse everything I do is hyper analyzed whether it’s good or bad.”

AFP Photo