By Tom Brown and Barbara Liston
SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - A Florida judge ruled on Wednesday that jurors in the murder trial of George Zimmerman should hear telephone calls the neighborhood watch volunteer made to police in the months before he killed the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
"Defense objection to relevancy is denied, the tapes will come into evidence," Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson said.
Prosecutors say the calls, in which Zimmerman reported what he described as suspicious activity by black men, demonstrated "profiling" and were key to understanding the defendant's state of mind on February 26, 2012 when he called police to report Martin, minutes before shooting him in the chest at point-blank range.
Defense attorneys have objected to the use of the tapes in the trial, describing the phone calls made between August 2011 and February 2012 as "irrelevant," and contending that they would tell jurors nothing about Zimmerman's thinking on the night he shot the 17-year-old Martin.
At the time of the killing, Zimmerman, 29, and part Hispanic, was a neighborhood watch coordinator in the Retreat at Twin Lakes community in Sanford, Florida.
He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and could face life imprisonment if convicted.
The killing of Martin and the decision by police not to arrest Zimmerman for six weeks sparked protests and complaints about what many see as racial bias in law enforcement in this central Florida town and in major cities across the country.
To win a conviction for second-degree murder, the prosecution must convince jurors that Zimmerman acted with "ill will, hatred, spite or an evil intent," and "an indifference to human life," according to Florida jury instructions.
In four of the Zimmerman phone calls, played in court on Tuesday before jurors were called into court, Zimmerman can be heard reporting what he describes as suspicious behavior by various black men, using words or phrases similar to those he used to report Martin to the police.
"They typically run away quickly," he said in one call, referring to two men whom he said matched the description of suspects in a recent neighborhood burglary.
The six jurors and four alternates hearing the case were selected last week, and opening statements began on Monday.
In a surprise announcement on Wednesday, Nelson said one of the alternate jurors, identified as a male known only as B-72, had been dismissed "for reasons totally unrelated to this case."
The six-member panel of acting jurors who will decide Zimmerman's fate are all women, five of whom are white and one Hispanic.
Martin, who was a student at a Miami-area high school, was staying with one of the homeowners at the gated community in Sanford when he was killed. He was walking back to the house when he encountered Zimmerman.
In opening statements on Monday, the prosecution portrayed Zimmerman as a man with a concealed weapon who committed a vigilante-style killing, while Zimmerman's defense team laid out the self-defense argument.
Under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which was approved in 2005 and has since been copied by about 30 other states, people fearing for their lives can use deadly force without having to retreat from a confrontation, even when it is possible.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)