SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — A Florida judge read the formal charge against George Zimmerman on Wednesday to 40 potential jurors who could be selected to decide if the neighborhood watch volunteer committed murder when he shot an unarmed Trayvon Martin.
Judge Debra Nelson read the second-degree murder charge before the potential jurors who are moving on to the second round of questioning of what they know about the case.
“The object is to obtain a jury who will impartially try this case based on the evidence presented in the courtroom,” Nelson told the jurors.
The 17-year-old’s death prompted public outrage around the nation, with some accusing Sanford police of failing to investigate the shooting thoroughly from the beginning because of Martin’s race and because he was from the Miami area.
Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda then started asking individual jurors about how long they have lived in Florida; whether they supervised workers; their hobbies; if they had previously served on juries; if they’re married; and what their spouses did for a living. He also warned jurors that they would have to forget about anything they knew about the case previously and base their information only on what they heard in the courtroom.
“What you heard and saw anywhere outside the courtroom can’t factor into your decision,” he said. “What you saw on TV or on the Internet or read or what the media said is completely irrelevant.
Twenty-seven of the 40 potential jurors are white, seven are black, three are mixed race and three are Hispanic. Twenty-four are women and 16 are men.
The potential jurors shared personal details about their lives during Wednesday’s questioning. Several were involved with rescuing animals, and the pool included a competitive arm-wrestler and a man who enters barbecue competitions.
The racial and ethnic makeup of potential jurors is relevant, prosecutors say. They have have argued that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer for his gated community in Sanford, Fla., profiled Trayvon Martin when he followed the black teen last year as Martin was walking back from a convenience store to the house of his father’s fiancee.
Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, fatally shot Martin a short time later following a confrontation that was partially captured on a 911 call.
Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder. He is pleading not guilty, claiming self-defense.
The 40 potential jurors represent a cross-section of people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds who have varying levels of familiarity with the case’s basic facts.
Through an initial round of interviews that included questions focused on pretrial exposure to the case via the news media or other means, lawyers were able to find a group of potential jurors who said they could focus on testimony provided in the courtroom.
Nelson said attorneys for both the prosecution and the state would be allowed to ask much broader questions in the second round than they did in the first.
Nelson said last week that once pared down, the final jury would be sequestered throughout the trial to protect it from outside influence.
A white man in his 50s who described previously serving on a jury said he enjoyed the experience.
“Everybody hear that?” de la Rionda asked the jurors with a smile.
“It was one day. We weren’t sequestered,” the juror shot back.