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SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - "Shaken Baby Syndrome" was cited on Friday in the defense of George Zimmerman, the Sanford, Florida, man who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in a case that has sparked a widespread public outcry.
Hal Uhrig, a lawyer and former Gainesville, Florida, police officer who recently joined Zimmerman's defense team, cited in a TV interview the brain damage that can seriously injure or kill an infant.
His point, which has been made before, was that Zimmerman contends he shot Martin in self defense and feared for his life after the 17-year-old attacked him and began pounding his head into the concrete pavement of a gated community on a rainy evening in Sanford on February 26.
But Uhrig's choice of words, and use of a recognized sign of child abuse to defend a 28-year-old man who killed a kid, seemed likely to raise more than just a few eyebrows.
"We're familiar with the Shaken Baby Syndrome," said Uhrig on the CBS This Morning program. "You shake a baby, the brain shakes around inside the skull. You can die when someone's pounding your head into the ground."
Apart from saying his client suffered a broken nose, Uhrig did not elaborate on the extent of any injuries Zimmerman actually suffered. But characteristic injuries associated with SBS, as Shaken Baby Syndrome is known, include bleeding in the brain. There are often no visible external signs such injuries have occurred.
Police have not arrested Zimmerman because the use of lethal force in self defense is permitted under the Stand Your Ground law approved by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in 2005.
The lack of an arrest in the Martin case has triggered protests across the United States. A special prosecutor appointed by Governor Rick Scott is investigating to decide whether charges are warranted, amid allegations of racial profiling and initial police bungling of the case.
If it goes to trial, Uhrig said he and his fellow defense attorney, would defend Zimmerman under the Stand Your Ground statute.
"He didn't commit any crime," Uhrig said on CBS. "He was attacked, broke his nose, hit his head into the ground and he defended himself. That's not against the law."
A USA Today/Gallup poll published on Saturday showed that Americans are deeply divided across color lines in their opinions about Martin's killing.
Seventy-three percent of blacks in the survey said they believed Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, would have been arrested if the person he shot dead was white.
Only 33 percent of whites agreed with that view while the majority of whites polled, 52 percent, said race made no difference in the case.
Reporting By Tom Brown; Editing by Philip Barbara