SANFORD -- After an eventual verdict in the George Zimmerman case, the names of jurors will be kept secret — but for how long remains to be seen.
Seminole Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson said Monday the names of the six jurors will be kept anonymous “for some time,” but she won’t rule on the length of time until later in the trial, or possibly after.
Zimmerman is charged with the February 2012 slaying of Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin, whose death spurred racial tension, drew worldwide headlines and spurred scrutiny of Florida’s self-defense law.
Jury selection began last week. On Monday, Zimmerman’s defense team — with prosecutors agreeing — asked the judge to keep jurors’ names secret for at least six months after the trial, to ensure they are not harassed or threatened after a possible verdict in the polarizing case.
The defense move mirrors what happened in the highly publicized Casey Anthony murder trial in Orlando. After Anthony was acquitted of murdering her young daughter, a judge ordered a “cooling off” period and jurors’ names were not revealed to the public for three months.
On Monday, lawyer Scott Ponce, representing The Miami Herald and other media outlets, said the move to keep juror names secret was premature and suggested the matter be revisited after the verdict, when the court could gauge any outrage or potential threats.
“We’ve really got the cart before the horse here. It’s all conjecture and speculation,” Ponce said.
The ruling came as prosecutors and the defense team inched close to seating a six-person jury. After interviewing eight potential jurors Monday, the court asked four of them to return later in the week for more questioning.
So far, prosecutors and the defense team have agreed on 32 potential jurors to move onto a second round of questioning. In all, they’re looking to get a pool of 40 possible jurors who can be impartial and fair despite the overwhelming news coverage of the case.
Among those booted Monday: a man who donated $20 to Zimmerman’s defense fund and admitted being “70” percent sure that Zimmerman was innocent.
“I think George Zimmerman was trying to do the right thing, and things spiraled out of control,” he said, later adding, “I have an opinion, but I have an open mind.”
Also dismissed was a grandmother helping to raise teenage boys. She used the case as a teachable moment for them. She also speculated there may be protests if Zimmerman were acquitted. A middle-aged man who said he could not judge another person based on his religious beliefs was also dismissed.
Prosecutors say Zimmerman, 29, “profiled” Trayvon as the unarmed teen was walking through a gated, suburban Sanford housing community. Zimmerman called police to report the teen as “suspicious” before a violent scuffled ensued.
He shot Trayvon once in the chest. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, is claiming self-defense.
Sanford police did not initially arrest Zimmerman, who suffered injuries to his head and cooperated with investigators. The initial delay in charging Zimmerman sparked anger from Trayvon’s family and supporters. The uproar soon swelled, with national civil rights leaders calling for Zimmerman to be arrested and rallies being held in Sanford and other U.S. cities.
Gov. Rick Scott appointed prosecutors from Duval County; they later charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder.
Lawyers are hoping to seat a jury by the week’s end. The trial is expected to last two to four weeks, with jurors being sequestered to shield them from the media.
Also on Monday evening, lawyers were continuing a hearing on the reliability of the science used by audio experts who analyzed calls to police that are considered evidence in the case. One 911 call from a neighbor captured screams and a gunshot.
Prosecutors hope to introduce experts who suggest the screams belong to Trayvon, which could show Zimmerman was the aggressor. The defense is challenging those experts.