SANFORD -- With 28 potential jurors selected so far, lawyers in the George Zimmerman case are hoping to whittle the number down to a final panel by the end of next week.
After five days of methodical questioning of potential jurors about pretrial publicity, defense attorney Mark O’Mara told reporters Friday night that he was confident that a jury of six would be seated in the second-degree murder trial that has drawn widespread publicity.
“I’m happy it looks like we’re going to get a Seminole County jury to decide a Seminole County case,” O’Mara said.
George Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, 17. In February, 2012, the two had a violent confrontation in a gated Sanford community as the Miami Gardens teenager returned from a convenience store. Zimmerman claims he shot the unarmed Trayvon in self-defense.
The shooting and subsequent delayed arrest sparked racial tension in Sanford — along with marches led by national civil rights leaders — and prompted a debate about Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law.
Lawyers in the case had been concerned that media saturation would make getting an impartial jury impossible. But O’Mara said he was surprised that many people claimed to know so little about the case that drawn so much attention over the past 16 months.
The selection process has not been without hiccups.
A potential juror who had been dismissed on Thursday over a caustic Facebook rant decrying the “corrupt” Sanford police returned to the Seminole criminal courthouse on Friday in an apparent attempt to talk to the remaining pool. Deputies, however, escorted him off the property.
O’Mara said the trial could have ended prematurely had the man gotten through, costing taxpayers tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in money spent on security and other costs.
“He could have done away with that with one scream into the jury room,” O’Mara said.
In all, O’Mara and the defense team plus prosecutors are looking to select a pool of 40 possible jurors to proceed to another round of questioning next week. They need 12 more potential jurors to reach 40.
Among those asked to return next week: two African Americans who didn’t believe the case was racially motivated, a Mexican-born man eager to serve on a jury for his adopted country and a young arm-wrestling enthusiast who dislikes the news media.
One potential juror who didn’t make the cut: a woman who was adamant that Zimmerman was defending himself and who described Trayvon as a pot-smoking troublemaker “going down the wrong path.”
Also on Monday in the late afternoon, lawyers will finish a hearing to determine the reliability of audio experts used to analyze a 911 tape that captured sounds of the fight between Trayvon and Zimmerman. The defense is challenging state experts who suggest the scream on the tape belongs to Trayvon, making Zimmerman appear to be the aggressor.
Zimmerman’s defense will also ask Circuit Judge Debra Nelson to keep jurors’ identities secret for six months after the verdict. That hearing is also scheduled for Monday afternoon. The request by the defense is similar to what happened in high-profile Casey Anthony murder case in Orlando, in which Anthony was acquitted of killing her daughter. The judge in that case shielded the names of the jurors for three months.