ORLANDO, Fla. -- A court employee who retrieved photos and deleted text messages from Trayvon Martin's cellphone has been placed on administrative leave after an attorney testified that prosecutors didn't properly turn over the evidence to the defense, an attorney said Wednesday.
Former prosecutor Wesley White said he was ethically obligated to reveal that Fourth Judicial Circuit Information Technology Director Ben Kruidbos retrieved the data that weren't turned over.
Kruidbos was placed on leave shortly after White testified during a hearing in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder case on Tuesday. White said Kruidbos was interviewed by state attorney investigators twice before the action was taken.
White said he wasn't surprised of possible evidence violations by Zimmerman prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda.
"I was saddened by it, but I'm not surprised," he said.
Note the order.
Note the order.
White first learned about the evidence through Kruidbos more than a month ago, he said.
Phone and email messages left at the office of Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Angela Corey were not immediately returned.
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in 17-year-old Martin's killing and has pleaded not guilty, saying he acted in self-defense. Circuit Judge Debra Nelson has denied a defense motion to delay the trial, which scheduled to begin on June 10.
White led the Nassau County state attorney's office before resigning in December, citing differences of opinion with Corey. He is now in private practice.
White said the photos Kruidbos retrieved were of a hand holding a gun and one depicted drugs. The content of the text messages wasn't specified.
"I'm an officer of the court and I'm obliged to inform the court of any misconduct or any potential misconduct coming before the court. Whether it's by the defense or prosecution," White said.
The defense released photos of a gun, marijuana plant and Martin's text messages publicly, saying that if prosecutors planned to paint Zimmerman as the aggressor and Martin as the innocent bystander, they wanted the information to defend him. Attorneys won't be able to mention the teen's drug use, suspension from school and past fighting during opening statements at the trial, Nelson ruled Tuesday.
Nelson has set a full hearing on the turning over of evidence for next week.
Defense attorney Mark O'Mara has previously brought a handful of motions alleging that the state attorney's office had been slow to turn over other evidence.
White said his disclosure to the defense isn't sparked by any animosity toward his former employer.
"It has to do with the rule of law," White said. "When Mr. Kruidbos testifies next week, it will be his testimony and not my own."
O'Mara said Tuesday that he felt compelled to bring this matter to the attention of the judge after a hearing earlier this month in which De la Rionda was emphatic that he'd turned over all evidence related to Martin's cellphone.
"(Kruidbos) knew information that nobody else would know about what (the state attorney's office) didn't give us," O'Mara said. "The picture of the gun in the hand, for example, had not been turned over to us. But that had been created back in late January within the state attorney's office.
"That inquiry, if in fact it continues and it certainly should, could lead to some very dire consequences for those who made presentations to the judge that were not accurate."
O'Mara reported on the defense team's website Wednesday that Zimmerman's defense fund had less than $5,000 left. The fund had raised almost $315,000 by January.
His attorneys are calculating that Zimmerman needs another $120,000 to put on a good defense, or even another $75,000 to give him a fighting chance.