Published June 19, 2013
SANFORD, Fla. – Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the George Zimmerman murder trial are about to move into the next phase of jury selection.
On Wednesday, lawyers from both sides will begin whittling down a group of 40 prospective jurors, selected over a little more than a week's time, to a final group of 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.
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 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.
The case prompted public outrage around the nation, with some accusing Sanford police of failing to investigate the shooting thoroughly from the beginning because of the 17-year-old Martin's race and because he was from the Miami area.
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.
Included in the group is a white woman in her 20s who said she once "liked" a photograph of Martin on Facebook. Also making it to the next round is a white man in his 30s who said he thought Zimmerman "sounded like a concerned neighbor" when he initially encountered Martin.
Others expressed mixed feelings about the racial undertones of the case.
One was a middle-aged black man who said he thought Martin's death was "typical" with the history of violence he's noted against black men in America. In contrast, another middle-aged black man said he didn't agree with the racial connotations attached to the shooting and the protests that were held after it. He called those actions, which involved the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, "saber-rattling."
Another prospective juror in the pool is a Mexican national in his 40s who said he had little knowledge of the case, but wanted to serve on the jury as a means to serve his adopted country.
Judge Debra 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.
Each side has 10 preemptory challenges, also called strikes, which it can use to eliminate jurors. Attorneys for both sides have unlimited challenges for cause. Once the preemptory challenges are exhausted, the jurors who haven't been eliminated for cause will form the final jury.
Nelson said last week that once pared down, the final jury would be sequestered throughout the trial to protect it from outside influence.
Four prospective jurors questioned Tuesday morning expressed no strong opinions about the case. They included a mixed-race man in his 50s, a mixed-race woman in her 20s, a white woman in her 20s and a black man in his 50s.
When asked what his impressions were about the case, the mixed-race man in his 50s said, "You had a family grieving for the loss of their son. You have another family grieving for the potential loss of their loved one to this process. You had supporters on both sides, and some people were very angry."
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