Can Zimmerman Jury be Impartial with 5 White Women and 1 Hispanic?

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Zimmerman in court Wednesday
Zimmerman in court Wednesday

As opening arguments in the George Zimmerman murder trial are set to begin on Monday, trial-watchers are wondering whether an all-female jury of five whites and one Hispanic will be more sympathetic to Zimmerman’s claims that he killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense.

Rev. Al Sharpton, joined on his MSNBC show by Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump, questioned the fairness of one particular juror, who he believed had already revealed a bias against Martin. Sharpton pointed to juror B-37, who had described the protests in Sanford as “riots” and who had a concealed weapons permit.

“I was down there and helped organize some of the protests asking for a trial,” Sharpton said. “I never saw rioting and never heard of rioting when I was there.”

“That’s what we’ve been saying all along,” Crump replied. “Everybody who protested on behalf of Trayvon Martin was very peaceful. All his parents have ever asked for is peaceful justice.”

“I would hope that we get fairness,” Sharpton said. “I think, though, we must deal with what the obvious is in terms of what the county demographics are, what is on the jury. But we don’t think people can be fair or unfair based on who they are. But we think the system ought to always be questioned.”

The jurors include a Hispanic woman with eight children, an animal rescuer who once had a concealed-weapons permit, and a woman who said she had used the death of the teen as a cautionary example for her two adolescent children. Of the four alternates, two are men and all are white. Nearly all of the jurors have children.

Legal experts said an all-female jury is unusual, but given the fact that Seminole County is just 11 percent black, observers knew a jury with no African-Americans was very likely.

“It’s not statistically significant,” said Diana Tennis, an Orlando defense lawyer. “But whether or not it’s significant for the community, depending on the outcome, is another thing.”

The jurors will remain anonymous for the duration of the trial. They will be sequestered starting on Monday. The trial is expected to last two to four weeks.

Some experts thought an all-female jury would be less receptive to Zimmerman’s behavior than men, and also might be more sympathetic to the loss of a child. However, Luis Calderon, a criminal lawyer in Orlando, told the New York Times that because many of the women were older, they might identify more with Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense.

“One of the things you have to show is reasonable fear,” he said, “Of being overpowered, of being helpless, of being in a situation where you can’t defend yourself physically.” Older women, he said, “would be more inclined to understand that.”

Zimmerman’s lead defense lawyer, Mark O’Mara, said, “What I do think we have, and I’m very happy with this, is six jurors who have told us that they’ll be fair and impartial.”

“With the makeup of this jury, the question of whether every American can get equal justice regardless of who serves on their jury panel will be answered,” the Martin family said in a statement. “Equal justice under the law is not a black value or a white value.”

 The judge in the case, Debra Nelson, is expected to rule today on whether state expert witnesses will be allowed to testify about who was screaming in the background of a 911 call before Martin was killed.

The state’s forensic audio analysts say it’s likely Martin and not Zimmerman, but Zimmerman’s lawyers disagree with that contention. Several defense experts, one of them from the FBI, have testified that the science used by the state shouldn’t be trusted.

Defense attorney Donald West called the audio analysis “perhaps the most important evidence in this case,” if it’s allowed in. 

West said one of the state’s experts, Tom Owen, is using the case to promote new voice identification software in which he has a financial stake.

 

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