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Lawyers in Zimmerman Trial Have Difficulty Finding Jurors Uninfluenced by Publicity

Zimmerman in court Wednesday

As lawyers in the George Zimmerman murder trial plod through the arduous process of picking six people to serve on a jury, after three days only 20 people have made it to the second round of questioning. 

Seminole County Court spokeswoman Michelle Kennedy said of the 100 prospective jurors who were summoned to the court on Monday, 75 have been dismissed. The questions from the lawyers up to now have focused exclusively on the potential jurors’ exposure to publicity and conversations about the trial. They are having a difficult time finding Florida residents who haven’t been affected by the overwhelming news coverage.

“Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, it’s been pretty hard for people not to have gotten a lot of information,” one woman said.

“You’ve shown remarkable insight into our very problem,” defense lawyer Don West said in response, according to published reports.

The six jurors selected will decide whether Zimmerman should serve time for the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012. Charged with second-degree murder, Zimmerman, 29, could be imprisoned for life if convicted.

But though the going has been slow, Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson has lined up a pool of 500 potential jurors for the preliminary round of questioning, so lawyers have 400 more people to question before they exhaust the pool. They need four alternates in addition to the six jurors. In the state of Florida, 12 jurors are required only for criminal trials involving cases where the death penalty is being considered.

After attorneys select 30 people who they feel haven’t been too affected by publicity, they can move on to asking more personal questions.

Some of the responses have revealed how people get their information in the Internet age, such as the college student who said she doesn’t watch television news or read a newspaper. She got her knowledge of Zimmerman and Martin mainly through friends’ Facebook status updates. Her takeaway?

“An African-American was wearing a hoodie or something like that,” she said.

A mother of three said she heard of the case because her pastor led the congregation in prayers for Martin and Zimmerman, but she hadn’t heard much else because she doesn’t have cable TV or Internet service.

A former financial services worker, who estimated she had seen 200 news reports, called the shooting “a very unfortunate incident” and said she used it to talk to her sons about the dangers of going out at night.

One man told the court he had not made up his mind, but that “murder is murder.”

“Even in self-defense, it’s still murder,” he said.

He was dismissed for cause.

Each side gets 10 peremptory challenges they can use to dismiss a juror without giving a reason. Those challenges have often been used in the past to filter out African-Americans during jury selection, so the legal system closely monitors the use of peremptory challenges.

The jury selection process is expected to last through next week.


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