Defense attorney Mark O’Mara, center, with jury consultant Robert Hirschhorn, left, talks with George Zimmerman during a break in Seminole circuit court during Zimmerman’s trial, in Sanford, Fla., on Tuesday.
SANFORD, Florida — During two days of questioning, prosecutors and George Zimmerman’s attorneys were unable to find potential jurors who hadn’t heard something about the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by the neighborhood watch volunteer.
By the end of the day Tuesday, the attorneys had questioned 14 potential jurors in person, and more than 40 jury candidates had been dismissed after filling out a questionnaire.
Zimmerman is pleading not guilty to a second-degree murder charge that could carry a life sentence if he is convicted. He claims he shot Martin in self-defense. A 44-day delay in Zimmerman’s arrest led to protests around the United States.
Protesters questioned whether the Sanford Police Department was seriously investigating the case of Martin, a black teen from the Miami area. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.
Judge Debra Nelson has said she will keep the identities of the selected jurors anonymous but she rejected a defense request to sequester the initial jury pool of 500 residents.
After reciting details about the case she had heard in the news, Juror “B-51,” a white, female retiree, told the attorneys they’re going to have a hard time finding jurors who haven’t heard about the case and can only hope they find residents who can keep an open mind.
“I haven’t lived under a rock for the past year,” she said. “It’s pretty hard for people not to have gotten some information.”
Juror “B-65,” the potential juror with the least knowledge of the case, was a middle-aged black woman who says she learned about it when a prayer was held at her church for the parties involved in the confrontation. She said she no longer owned a television.
Juror “B-35,” a middle-aged black man who owns vending machines, described protests last year over Martin’s shooting as “saber-rattling.” He wondered why there weren’t protests over the fatal shootings of other African-American men in Sanford, the Orlando suburb where Martin was killed in February 2012. He also said he believed Zimmerman deserved his day in court.
“I think they politicized it and made it a racial issue, and I didn’t like that,” said Juror “B-35.”I wasn’t agreeing with the racial connotation.”
Juror “B-7,” a middle-aged white man, said he didn’t think Florida’s so-called stand-your-ground law was necessary in the state given other self-defense laws that were in place prior to its passage. The law allows a person to invoke self-defense if they feel a fatal shooting is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.
Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, decided not to exercise his client’s right to have a judge decide whether the case could be dismissed under the law.
Juror “B-7” also said he thought news media coverage of the case had been “speculative” and devoid of hard facts.
“Juror B-86,” a single mother of two sons who works at a school, indicated she may have trouble ignoring news stories about Martin’s suspension from high school at the time he was visiting Sanford. The judge has prohibited defense attorneys from mentioning during their opening statements either the suspension, Martin’s past marijuana use, or any fights he got into.
Attorneys need to find six jurors and four alternates. In Florida, 12 jurors are required only for criminal trials involving capital cases, when the death penalty is being considered.
Defense attorneys asked potential jurors if being isolated during the trial would be a hardship, indicating they plan to ask Nelson to sequester the jury. Jury candidates who move on from the initial round of questioning about their knowledge of the case, face other rounds of interviews with the attorneys.
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