SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Attorneys trying to narrow down a pool of potential jurors for George Zimmerman‘s high-profile murder trial are getting closer to being allowed to ask the candidates more detailed questions about their lives.
After two days of questioning more than a dozen people about how much publicity on the case they have already been exposed to, Wednesday could be the day lawyers get to delve deeper.
In the jury selection process established by Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, once 30 jurors have been questioned individually about pretrial exposure and have not been dismissed for cause or hardships, they will be brought together as a group for broader questioning by lawyers on both sides.
Thus far, Zimmerman’s attorneys have been 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.
After reciting details about the case she had heard in the news, Juror “B-51,” a white, female retiree, told the attorneys Tuesday that 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.”
By the end of the day Tuesday, the attorneys had questioned 14 potential jurors in person, and 70 jury candidates had been dismissed after filling out an initial questionnaire. That includes 30 released Tuesday.
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.
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.
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.
Juror “B-65,” the potential juror with the least knowledge of the case, was a middle-aged black woman who said Tuesday that 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.