SANFORD -- For seven days, lawyers in the George Zimmerman trial grilled scores of Seminole County residents about their exposure to the case’s widespread publicity.
Starting Wednesday, lawyers will begin to zero in on other topics, which could include race, guns and self-defense, all central themes in the prosecution of Zimmerman for the February 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
The 29-year-old former college student is charged with second-degree murder in the death of the unarmed teen, who was shot in the chest during a violent scuffle in a gated Sanford community.
Zimmerman claims Trayvon attacked him and he shot the teen in self-defense as his head was being bashed into the ground. Prosecutors say Zimmerman “profiled” Trayvon and shot him dead during the fight.
Detectives did not arrest Zimmerman immediately and that sparked racial tension in the city and protests led by national civil rights leaders.
The case also prompted a debate about Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, which eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before using deadly force.
On Tuesday afternoon, more than a week into jury selection, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson announced that the final 40 candidates had been selected for the next round.
Legal observers had initially believed that getting an impartial jury in Seminole County, which was besieged by media covering the saga, would be difficult. But Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s defense lawyer, told reporters last week that they expected to seat the six-person jury by late this week.
In all, 211 potential jurors filled out questionnaires about their knowledge of the case. Of those, lawyers spent seven days grilling 58 candidates about their exposure to the case through television, newspapers, social media and discussions with friends and family.
On Tuesday, lawyers interviewed nine people, and kept all but one for the next round of questioning.
Among those moving on: a young pregnant woman, a middle-aged black man who doesn’t dislike Headline News and a young white father who prefers football to cable news.
The first candidate interviewed Tuesday, a middle aged man known by juror ID number H-81 (jurors’ identities are being shielded), had served on a jury before and had a solid understanding of the court process.
“The rules of the court protect the presentation of facts,” he said as lawyers probed his ability to discern between evidence and rumors.
Another middle-aged white woman interviewed Tuesday afternoon also made the cut. Like the others, she insisted she could be fair and impartial.
“A young man lost his life in this case. Another man is fighting for his life. No one is a winner in this case,” she told the lawyers.