Questioning of potential jurors begins in George Zimmerman trial

06/10/2013 12:54 PM

06/10/2013 9:35 PM

After a methodical first day of jury selection in the Trayvon Martin murder trial Monday, one thing became clear: Even people who profess to pay little attention to the news have heard about the killing of the unarmed Miami Gardens teenager.

One potential juror, a female night-shift worker who loves game shows and CSI: Miami, recalled the now well-known image of Trayvon Martin in a hooded sweatshirt.

Another woman, a recent Seminole County transplant from Chicago and lover of reality TV shows, said she remembers “people selling T-shirts and some kid died.”

And a third possible juror, the rare person sans cable television at home, nevertheless remembered broadcast images of defendant George Zimmerman’s head injuries — and Trayvon’s parents appearing on television.

“I’m not sure, but is that his mom?” the woman asked, nodding toward Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, in the second row of the Seminole County courtroom.

Monday’s brief questioning of four potential jurors underscored the difficulty lawyers will have in finding citizens who are not swayed by the unprecedented publicity that has swirled around the case since Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon during a struggle in February 2012.

And the trial’s start also marks the beginning of the road to justice for two families. Trayvon’s family asked for prayers from the public.

“We waited over a year for the trial. We were patient for the arrest, and we will be patient for the trial,” Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, said early in the day. “We will let the judicial system go through the process and… however much time they need to present the case, we will be there, we have to support our son.”

And Robert Zimmerman Jr., brother of the accused, talked about the constant fear the family feels in the face of death threats. He said he believes jurors will clear his brother of second-degree murder.

“As a family, we’re very confident in the outcome of the case and very confident that the state will not be able to prove its burden,” Robert Zimmerman told reporters.

The road to a verdict, however, is likely to be a long one.

On Tuesday, prosecutors and defense attorneys will begin questioning 17 more jurors about pre-trial publicity, and likely scores more after that. They need to choose six jurors and four alternates.

Even as the potential jurors answered questions — each insisting they could be unbiased — they admitted they were cognizant of the sea of television news trucks that idled in sprawling parking lots outside the criminal court, clogging traffic.

“I said, ‘Oh my God, I must be on Zimmerman,” the first juror interviewed, a middle aged blonde woman, told lawyers, when she realized her jury selection coincided with perhaps the biggest criminal case in Seminole County history.

One juror, a 65-year-old retiree, admitted his family told him to use his partial deafness to get out of jury selection. He didn’t. He did admit he believed the shooting “was the fault of both sides,” but he said he could serve on the jury.

“I could play golf but this is much more interesting,” he said with a smile.

Jury selection, which is expected to last a couple of weeks, about 16 months after Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon on a rainy night at a Sanford gated community.

Trayvon had just returned from buying candy and a drink at a nearby convenience store. Prosecutors say Zimmerman, a self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman, “profiled” the teen and engaged in a violent scuffle, shooting Trayvon once in the chest.

Zimmerman, who cooperated with Sanford police, claimed the teen attacked him and he fired in self defense as his head was being bashed into the concrete.

When Sanford police initially did not arrest Zimmerman, outrage grew as the Martin family and civil rights leaders called for his prosecution. Eventually, prosecutors filed a charge of second-degree murder against Zimmerman.

The saga inflamed racial tensions in this small Central Florida town, where some black residents have long complained of unequal treatment by police.

And the case drew scrutiny of Florida’s self-defense law, which in 2005 was changed to eliminate a citizen’s duty to retreat before using deadly force when faced with harm. Critics say the law encourages vigilantism.

But outside the courthouse Monday, there was no sign of the thousands who had attended rallies in Sanford last year. Only a handful of Trayvon Martin supporters gathered under the watch of reporters and deputies.

Inside court, a few spectators unaffiliated with the case had snagged seats through a lottery system.

Said Sanford train engineer John Mcclanahan, 60: “I get to see people on TV. That’s pretty cool.”

Miami Herald staff writer Audra D.S. Burch contributed to this report.

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