On the left, John Donnelly appears seated in gallery of the George Zimmmerman trial courtroom on June 25. On the right, Donnelly testifies on the stand on July 8
A witness who testified in the George Zimmerman trial may have been present during court proceedings weeks before he took the stand — violating a Florida law that bars witnesses in a criminal trial from being in the courtroom before they testify, prosecutors have asserted.
An NBC News review of tapes from the trial shows John Donnelly, who was called as a witness for the defense on Monday, appearing to be seated in court on Tuesday, June 25 -- the second day of testimony in the trial.
On June 24, Judge Debra Nelson had invoked Florida's so-called "rule of sequestration," which called for all witnesses except Trayvon Martin's parents to leave the courtroom.
John Donnelly, a retired physician's assistant, then testified on Monday, telling the court that he donated to Zimmerman's defense fund, paid for Zimmerman's court clothing, and believes the screaming voice captured on a 911 call is his friend's.
But later that day, prosecuting attorney Richard Mantei told the judge he had reason to believe that Donnelly had been present in the courtroom last month.
"I haven't been able to verify it yet, but there have been some individuals who have indicated that Mr. Donnelly may have actually been present in court at some point last week during part of this trial," Mantei said.
As Mantei’s remarks came during a hearing on discovery violations, Nelson responded that this issue was unrelated. On Tuesday, she said that the court would take up the Donnelly issue Wednesday morning.
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder for the Feb. 26, 2012 shooting death of Martin. Zimmerman said he was acting in self-defense when the 17-year-old attacked him in Sanford, Fla.
Editor's note: George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company strongly denies the allegation.
First published July 10 2013, 4:00 PM