SANFORD -- Just a handful of them lived in communities with neighborhood watch programs. At least a dozen owned firearms, or live with relatives who do.
Asked if race should play a role in the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case, the pool of 40 potential Seminole County jurors answered in unison: No.
“It has nothing to do with anything,” said one prospective juror, a young white woman.
So began Wednesday, the first day of group questioning of potential jurors in the trial of Zimmerman, a white Hispanic who is accused of gunning down Trayvon, an African-American 17-year-old, inside a Sanford gated community last year.
Prosecutor Bernardo de la Rionda, self deprecating and jovial with the jurors, spent hours drilling down on some of the major storylines — race, gun ownership and self-defense, neighborhood watch groups — that have unfolded in the 16 months since Trayvon was killed.
But as de la Rionda sought to gauge the personalities and life stories of each potential juror, and root out their biases, he peppered them with many more questions, some seemingly innocuous — like if they enjoyed fitness training or had linguistics training. Or if any of them had been the victims of crime, had relatives in law enforcement or had unfavorable feelings toward lawyers.
The day was part Q&A and part civics lesson as de la Rionda read the second-degree murder charge, explained the concept of circumstantial evidence and the use of experts in trials.
“Do you feel people should be held accountable for their actions?” de la Rionda asked the panel. “If you are picked as a juror, can you agree to use your God-given common sense in rendering a verdict that speaks the truth?”
The 29-year-old Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the death of the unarmed Miami Gardens teen, who was shot in the chest during a violent scuffle.
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.
Sanford police did not initially arrest Zimmerman, sparking racial tension in the city and protests by national civil rights leaders.
The case also prompted scrutiny of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, which eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before using deadly force. Critics say the law promotes vigilante justice.
Defense attorneys hope to pick a jury by week’s end, with openings possibly as early as Monday.
For the first time since jury selection began June 10, Zimmerman’s parents attended the court proceedings. They had not attended before because of security concerns and caring for an ailing relative, but wanted to “visibly advocate for George’s innocence,” according to a statement from their son, Robert Zimmerman Jr.
On Thursday afternoon, lawyers are also expected to finish a hearing to determine the reliability of science used by audio experts who analyzed 911 calls as part of the case.
State experts suggest that the screams heard on one call belong to Trayvon, which would paint Zimmerman as the aggressor. The defense is challenging those experts, saying their methods of analyzing the calls are “new and novel.”
The Martin family legal team pushed back, issuing a statement late Wednesday:
“It is ridiculous for the Zimmerman defense team to argue that expert voice analysis should not be permitted to testify at the trial when George Zimmerman himself stated the voice crying for help on the 911 recording ‘doesn’t even sound like me.’ ”