SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — A defense attorney in George Zimmerman‘s murder trial said at the end of the first week of jury selection that he thinks a jury could be seated by the middle of next week.
After five days of the selection process, 29 potential jurors have passed through an initial round of questioning about what knowledge they have already gained through media and other means about the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a Sanford, Fla., gated community.
“I know it’s slow-going to the outside, but it’s not slow-going to the inside,” defense attorney Mark O’Mara said. “I think it’s working out pretty well.”
O’Mara said that Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch leader, has been eager to have the actual trial process begin.
“He’s very encouraged because it’s finally on the way. He’s been waiting for 16 months for this process to start. He’s looking very forward to the resolution and the acquittal,” O’Mara said. “On the other hand, now it is real. And it’s very stressful because the preparation is great and now we’re in it.”
Prosecutors and defense attorneys want to build a pool of 40 potential jurors who have been screened for any influence of pretrial publicity before they move to a second round of questioning. Attorneys had interviewed 41 potential jurors over five days by the end of Friday.
At least 75 potential jurors already have been dismissed.
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.
Before lunch, Judge Debra Nelson told 23 candidates to return Tuesday and she did the same to an additional six potential jurors before ending the day Friday.
Court spokesman Michelle Kennedy, however, said a tally she had received from the judge put the number of potential jurors called back at 28.
Of the 29 candidates, 19 are white; six are black; two are Hispanic; one describes himself as mixed race; and one is Asian-American. The racial and ethnic makeup of potential jurors is relevant because prosecutors claim Zimmerman profiled Martin when he followed him through his gated community shortly before the unarmed teen was fatally shot. The case prompted public outrage, as some critics believed authorities initially didn’t investigate the case thoroughly because Martin was a black teen from the Miami area. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.
Many potential jurors asked to return were female and middle-aged.
A potential juror was dismissed from consideration and ordered not to come back to the courthouse until after the trial after he complained about the jury process outside the assembly room Friday. During questioning on Thursday, the judge asked the potential juror — a self-described musician and painter — if he had posted on Facebook about the case and he replied yes. He was told he could leave the courtroom a short time later.
Defense investigators were able to uncover the Facebook posting by the dismissed juror. O’Mara said he was worried about possible “stealth jurors,” who want to sit on the jury with ulterior motives.
“It could have easily gotten by us,” O’Mara said.