Published June 19, 2013
Jury selection in the George Zimmerman murder trial entered a new phase on Wednesday as the prosecution quizzed the pool of 40 potential jurors asked to return to the court for a second round of questioning.
The day began with Florida Judge Debra Nelson reading the charge against George Zimmerman to the 40 potential jurors. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
The 40 potential jurors sat together as a group in the courtroom Wednesday as Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda questioned individual jurors about their family life, work history and extracurricular activities. He also questioned the group as a whole about their beliefs on law enforcement, attorney bias and even courtroom TV shows.
Jurors were also given a list of potential witnesses in the case and asked if they recognized any of them; two of the jurors, I-33 and E-6, recognized several names.
"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."
De la Rionda also asked the jurors if they watched "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" or "Law and Order," saying it's important to note the difference between "real and make believe."
Fourteen candidates said they had been victims of crimes, including four involving violent crimes. A white woman in her 50s said it would be difficult for her to keep her experience with a violent crime out of the courtroom.
"It's always in my mind," she said.
De la Rionda also asked if the potential jurors had been members of a neighborhood watch group and if it was acceptable for individuals to take the law into their own hands. None of the jurors had much experience with neighborhood watch groups and for the most part didn't believe it was OK for individuals to act as law enforcement officers.
"There may be occasions, but I would generally say no," said a middle-aged black man.
Defense attorney Mark O'Mara is slated to begin questioning the potential jurors on Thursday.
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.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.