SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - A Florida judge blocked as evidence a computer generated re-enactment of George Zimmerman's shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, but she will allow the jury to see it in closing arguments of the murder trial.
The ruling on Wednesday was a partial victory for each side. While Zimmerman's lawyers wanted the video presented as official evidence, at least the jury gets to see it in court.
Seminole County Court Judge Debra Nelson also dealt the defense a setback by blocking the jury from hearing testimony purportedly showing Martin discussing his experience as a fighter in text messages and other data on his cellphone.
Nelson issued the two rulings at the start of what defense lawyers said could be the final day of evidence in the trial, which was in its third week of testimony.
The case could go to the jury by this weekend, although it was still unclear whether Zimmerman, who said he shot Martin in self-defense, would testify in his own defense. Nelson asked Zimmerman in court whether he was aware he had the right to remain silent. "Yes, your honor," he responded.
Prosecutors had opposed letting Zimmerman's lawyers use the animated reconstruction in the guise of unbiased evidence.
"The state's objection to the admissibility in evidence to the computer animation is sustained," Nelson said just before testimony resumed. "The computer animation will not be introduced into evidence, but it may be used by the defense as a demonstrative exhibit."
Jurors may see a "demonstrative exhibit" in closing statements but not during deliberations, as they can with all admitted evidence.
Daniel Schumaker, a specialist in reconstructing graphic crime scenes and accidents who created the re-enactment, testified that he employed the same technology used in the production of Hollywood action movies.
He said he based his depiction on police reports, witness statements and drawings, crime scene and investigative information, testimony in depositions, medical examiner reports and 911 emergency audio.
One of the scenes in the animation shows Martin approaching Zimmerman and throwing the first punch, which is based on Zimmerman's statement to police.
Nelson also ruled on Wednesday to block a defense witness, Richard Connor, from testifying about hidden text messages retrieved from Martin's cell phone.
The defense argued that the messages demonstrated Martin was an experienced fighter, but prosecutors said they were irrelevant and that anyone could have sent the texts that wound up in the memory of the phone.
Zimmerman remained free for more than six weeks after killing Martin because police initially declined to arrest him, accepting his claim he shot and killed the 17-year-old in self-defense.
A special prosecutor brought the charge of second-degree murder against Zimmerman after protests and cries of injustice in Sanford, the small Florida city where the incident occurred, and several major U.S. cities.
Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer, faces up to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder, although either side can request that the jury also consider the lesser offense of manslaughter, with a maximum penalty of 30 years.
After issuing her evidentiary rulings before the jury was called into court, Judge Nelson said she would ask Zimmerman later in the day about whether he would take the witness stand.
"You have the right to testify if you want to, and that's a decision that you will have to make," she told Zimmerman. "I mean the final decision is yours."
(Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Lisa Von Ahn)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013. Check for restrictions at: http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp