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Florida judge weighs NBC libel lawsuit from acquitted killer

By Letitia Stein

TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) - A Florida judge heard arguments on Thursday about whether to dismiss a lawsuit brought by George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of murder last year after shooting an unarmed black teenager, in which he accuses NBC Universal of falsely portraying him as racist.

Judge Debra Nelson, who also presided over Zimmerman's trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin, did not make a final decision in the libel lawsuit and plans to do more research, according to a spokeswoman for Seminole County Circuit Court.

She threw out allegations relating to one of the several news broadcasts in question, saying Zimmerman had not properly notified the defendants in that specific case before filing his lawsuit.

Zimmerman, who was a neighborhood watch volunteer at the time, claimed he acted in self-defense when he shot 17-year-old Martin in February 2012 as the teenager walked back to the house where he was staying. His acquittal last year prompted civil rights rallies and drew international attention to the state's controversial 'stand your ground' law.

In the lawsuit, filed before his acquittal, Zimmerman said NBC intentionally edited and repeatedly aired a phone call he made to police before he shot and killed Martin "to create the myth" that he was a racist.

The edited audio was broadcast on the network's flagship "Today" morning show in the spring of 2012 and on a Miami affiliate station, and made it appear that Zimmerman told police that Martin was black without being asked.

In fact, the full tape reveals that Zimmerman only did so in response to a dispatcher's question.

The network apologized to its viewers in a statement, and fired at least two NBC news employees.

"We appreciated the opportunity, at the outset of the case, to present our arguments at today's hearing why it should not proceed further," the network said in a statement on Thursday.

Zimmerman's attorney could not immediately be reached for comment. Zimmerman is asking for an undisclosed amount in damages.

NBC News is part of NBC Universal Media, a unit of Comcast Corp.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Jonathan Allen and James Dalgleish)

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