By Rene Stutzman and Jeff Weiner, Orlando Sentinel

Second-degree murder suspect George Zimmerman gets a new judge. [Zimmerman is the self-appointed neighborhood watchman accused of killing an unarmed 17 year old black youth, Trayvon Martin, in Sanford, Florida.]

The Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach on Wednesday ruled that Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. in Sanford went too far when, among other things, he described Zimmerman as a manipulator. It was “admittedly a close call,” wrote Judge C. Alan Lawson, but Lester’s actions, taken in total, would cause a reasonable person to fear that he is biased.


George Zimmerman smiling in court.

The next step is for Circuit Judge Alan Dickey in Sanford to pick a new judge. It’s expected to be Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson, 58, another felony trial judge in Sanford who has a reputation for handing down tough sentences. She’s been a judge for 13 years, much of it on the criminal bench, although she was a civil litigation specialist in private practice.

There will be no appeal, according to Florida’s Office of Attorney General, which had argued in court paperwork that Lester should stay. He was not biased, wrote Assistant Attorney General Pamela Koller. He had merely given Zimmerman a “well-deserved tongue lashing.”

Special Prosecutor Angela Corey’s office, the one in charge of putting Zimmerman on trial, had no comment. Defense attorney Mark O’Mara did not immediately return an email from the Orlando Sentinel. On his law firm’s webpage, he wrote that he expects a new judge to be assigned to the case soon.

Read more background about the judge’s decision here.