Trayvon Martin Shooter|Wins Bid for New Judge

     SANFORD, Fla. (CN) – Calling its decision a “close call,” a Florida appeals court on Wednesday granted an appeal by Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman to disqualify the judge sitting on his case.
     The 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach ordered Seminole County Judge Kenneth Lester to step down late Wednesday afternoon, almost one month after Zimmerman filed his appeal.
     The appeals court ruled 2-1 that Zimmerman’s reasons for seeking the recusal are “legally sufficient.”
     “Although many of the allegations in Zimmerman’s motion, standing alone, do not meet the legal sufficiency test, and while this is admittedly a close call, upon careful review we did find that the allegations, taken together, meet the threshold test of legal sufficiency,” the order states.
     “Accordingly we direct the trial judge to enter an order of disqualification which requests the chief circuit judge to appoint a successor judge.”
     In his motion to disqualify Lester, Zimmerman had argued that “gratuitous, disparaging” remarks the trial judge made in bond hearings demonstrated bias.
     In a one-sentence order on Aug. 1, Lester rejected Zimmerman’s recusal motion, finding his attorneys’ reasons “legally insufficient.”
     Appellate Judge Kerry Evander agreed in his brief dissenting opinion.
     “Although the trial court’s order clearly manifested an exceedingly strong belief by the trial judge that Zimmerman had ‘flouted’ and ‘tried to manipulate’ the system, I do not believe the order ‘crossed the line’ so as to require the granting of his motion,” Evander wrote.
     Lester agreed to release Zimmerman on $150,000 bond in April, then revoked bond upon learning that Zimmerman and his wife had failed to reveal they had raised more than $150,000 from public donations. Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie, was charged with perjury in June.
     In July, Zimmerman was released again, on $1 million bond.     
     Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, shot the unarmed, black 17-year-old Martin in February and claimed self-defense. Protests followed across the nation, as the Sanford police did not arrest Zimmerman for more than six weeks after the fatal shooting.
     Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. He is being monitored and is in hiding in Seminole County.
     Last week, Lester granted Zimmerman permission to leave Seminole County to visit his attorneys.
     Lester is the second judge to be recused from the case. The original judge, Jessica Recksiedler, stepped down shortly before Zimmerman’s first bond hearing in April. Recksiedler’s husband worked for the Orlando attorney Mark NeJame, who was first approached by Zimmerman’s family to represent him.

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