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George Zimmerman loses appeal in NBC defamation lawsuit

Zimmerman claims company edited phone calls after Trayvon Martin shooting

George Zimmerman’s attempt to sue NBC News over its coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting in 2012 has once again been scuttled.

On Tuesday, the Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed a lower court’s ruling to dismiss the defamation lawsuit Zimmerman filed against NBC Universal.  Zimmerman had claimed the media company maliciously edited phone calls he placed to 911 shortly after he shot and killed Martin in 2012.

The appellate judges did not issue a written explanation as to why they believed the trial court was correct in dismissing Zimmerman’s lawsuit.

The day before the appeals court ruling, Zimmerman sent out a Tweet that read, "NBC suit is alive & well".   Zimmerman promised 20% of the proceeds from the lawsuit would be used to pay back supporters who donated to his legal defense fund.

In June 2014, Seminole County Circuit Court Judge Debra S. Nelson threw out the defamation case.

"There are no genuine issues of material fact upon which a reasonable jury could find that the Defendants acted with actual malice," Nelson ruled. She said the malice standard was appropriate because Zimmerman is a public figure.

During a prior court hearing, Zimmerman's attorney said NBC manipulated the call to make it appear as if Zimmerman was chasing Martin because of the color of Martin's skin.

Zimmerman: "This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something.  It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about."

Dispatcher: "OK, and this guy is he white, black or Hispanic?"

Zimmerman: "He looks black."

In the reports that aired on NBC, the question from the dispatcher was removed.

Zimmerman's attorney called the 911 reports "reckless," adding that NBC fired at least two employees after the story came to light.

The edited calls aired four times in March 2012, prompting the lawsuit by Zimmerman. 

Zimmerman also accused NBC of defaming him in a separate broadcast, claiming he used a racial slur during his 911 call.

In 2013, a jury acquitted the former neighborhood watch leader of murdering Martin.


About the Author:

Mike DeForest

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than 15 years. Mike joined News 6 just as Florida officials began counting hanging chads in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election. Since then, he has covered some of the biggest news events in Central Florida.

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