Debra Nelson has made a name for herself in Florida as a tough-on-defendants judge. Now her legal bearing is at the heart of one of the nation's most sensitive murder trials.
SANFORD, Fla.-- When a 39-year-old woman snatched a baby from a Florida hospital in 2008, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson wasn't swayed by the fact that the child was missing for only about an hour. She sentenced the kidnapper to 30 years in prison.
Nelson is in the spotlight again as the presiding judge in one of America's most controversial murder cases: the killing of Trayvon Martin. Her reputation among some as a tough-on-defendants judge may be transformed as she balances both sides of the emotionally charged debate about why George Zimmerman fatally shot the 17-year-old.
"Lawyers appearing before her know that her reputation is to be a law-oriented, no-nonsense judge," said Daniel Gerber an Orlando defense attorney who argued a civil case before Nelson. "We know not to cross that line."
The 59-year-old judge has lived up to Gerber's view of her throughout Zimmerman's trial by fairly dishing out orders to prosecutors and defense attorneys. Nelson often asks lawyers to get to the point and stay on subject.