Published June 15, 2013
An attorney defending George Zimmerman in his 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.
"Personally, I'm very happy about that," defense attorney Mark O'Mara said Friday. "We're making good progress that jurors, for the most part are being honest and straight-forward."
Over two dozen potential jurors interviewed individually by prosecutors and George Zimmerman's defense attorneys during the past week were told Friday to return to a Florida courthouse next week for further questioning.
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. She asked them not to discuss the case or selection process with anyone.
Court spokesman Michelle Kennedy, however, said a tally she had received from the judge put the number of potential jurors called back at 28. She asked them not to discuss the case or selection process with anyone. Of the 29 candidates, 19 are white; six are black; two are Hispanic; one describes himself as mixed race; and one is Asian-American.
A potential juror for the George Zimmerman murder case 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.
The dismissed juror -- who described himself as a musician and painter -- said he was concerned about losing his privacy. He pointed to the jury assembly room and said "Do they know what they're in for?" according to a report from the Seminole County Sheriff's Office.
During questioning on Thursday, the judge asked the potential juror 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.
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 started questioning their 35th potential juror, a black woman in her 30s, on Friday. Juror G-29 outlined the basic facts of the case but said she had stayed away from discussing it much because she doesn't get involved with current affairs.
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.
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."
Nelson announced Thursday that the jury will be sequestered, meaning they will have limited contact with the outside world during the two weeks to a month it will take to hold the trial.
"Both parties have stipulated they anticipate the trial will last between two and four weeks," Nelson said. "Based on that, I will be sequestering the jury."
Nelson has said she will keep the identities of the selected jurors anonymous.
At least 75 potential jurors already have been dismissed.
Among those interviewed was a white man in his 20s who left the courtroom without being asked questions by defense attorneys after he gave answers to prosecutors indicating he wouldn't be impartial. The juror, known as R-39 because potential panelists can be identified only by their numbers, said that "murder is murder," even if it's self-defense. Zimmerman, 29, is pleading not guilty to second-degree murder, claiming he shot Martin in self-defense. Martin was not armed.
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.
The case has sparked national interest, and one potential juror even suggested to attorneys 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," said a potential juror, known as Juror B-51. "It's pretty hard for people not to have gotten some information."
Martin's father, Tracy Martin, said his family felt good so far about the jury selection process.
"We are encouraged as a family that we can get justice for our son Trayvon, and we expect the public to come forth and be honest as potential jurors," Tracy Martin said.
“Trayvon Martin is not on trial here, he is the victim. George Zimmerman, his killer, is the man who is on trial,” Martin family attorney Ben Crump said at a short press conference.
Crump also took issue with a comment made by former New York City police detective Harry Houck Tuesday on a FoxNews.com live panel, in which he said that Martin would still be alive if he hadn't had a “street attitude.”
“This comment is reprehensible and extremely reminiscent of the victim-blaming rhetoric we saw a year ago,” Crump said.
Zimmerman admitted to shooting Martin in the chest with his 9-mm. handgun after calling police, exiting his pickup truck to follow Martin, and then getting into a fight with the teenager on a rainy night inside a gated community in Sanford, Fla., on February 12, 2012.
But Zimmerman also says the teen circled back and attacked him as he walked back to his truck – punching him in the face and slamming the back of his head into the sidewalk.
Photographs taken that night show Zimmerman with a broken nose, bruises and bloody cuts on the back of his head.
Zimmerman could face life in prison if convicted on second-degree murder charges. 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.