As the trial of George Zimmerman enters its third day of jury selection Wednesday, Florida residents have a vivid reminder that anything can happen in the jury room — and has.
Zimmerman is accused of second-degree murder in the shooting of unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012 in Sanford, Fla. He says he acted in self-defense in shooting Martin after a confrontation on a rainy night in a gated community where Zimmerman lived.
The process is gaining a bit of momentum. On Monday, just four potential jurors were interviewed but by Tuesday evening 15 had come to the Sanford courtroom to be questioned. It was not known how many will move on to the next phase, a pool of 30 possible jurors will be questioned in depth. Eventually, six jurors will be seated to decide the charges against Zimmerman. Four alternates will also be chosen. On Monday, 41 prospective jurors were dismissed and 30 were dismissed Tuesday.
Although a lot of time, money and effort goes into shaping the jury as the defense and prosecution try to get an edge, there is no guarantee that even the most careful selection will bear fruit.
Several residents of all races in the Florida town recently noted that whichever way one viewed the evidence, the 2011 acquittal of Casey Anthony in the killing of her daughter, Calee Marie, by a jury in nearby Orlando was a reminder that no trial is a slam-dunk.
Calee Anthony vanished in June 2008 when she was 2, but her mother did not report her missing until July 15 of that year. The girl’s remains were found in a trash bag near the family home five months later. In a case that made national headlines, Anthony was acquitted of her murder but convicted of lying to police.
“A lot of people are just hoping that justice prevails, but you have to realize that if you’ve been here for decades, you’ve been disappointed so many times,” said Kenneth Bentley, who runs a tutoring center for young people in Goldsboro, an independent black city until its incorporation into Sanford in 1911.
Bentley, who is black, cited the Anthony case and several other criminal cases in Sanford that he said in which the perpetrators had gone unpunished for reasons the public often did not understand. Unlike Caley Anthony, victims in those cases most often are black, Bentley said.
“When people see trials like this, they get kind of leery and figure it’ll just be business as usual,” he said of Zimmerman’s trial.
Jacqueline Caraballo, a Sanford resident since 2001, also cited the outcome of the Anthony trial as a reason for skepticism and worried that massive media coverage of any volatile case could skew public opinion and hamper the quest for justice.
“People get so stirred up, and they make their own assumptions,” said Caraballo.
“Sometimes, too much information gets out. You see a lot of discrepancies, you see a lot of inconsistencies.”
Caraballo was trying to keep her own mind open.
“I don’t believe people should take matters into their own hands,” she said, referring to Zimmerman trailing Martin through the housing complex. “But I’m not taking sides. I cannot judge him based on the media, and I just want the truth to come out,” she said.
Sixteen-year-old Dennis Vann also wants the truth to come out, but made it clear that he already has decided what the truth is.
“I think he’ll be convicted,” Vann said of Zimmerman as he sat in a barber’s chair getting a trim. “There’s no fact he’s guilty. He did murder the guy.”
Terica Washington, 19, agreed but said she worried that the six-week delay in charging Zimmerman could affect the prosecution’s ability to present a rock-solid case. “If they do win, it’ll be because of the fact that Trayvon Martin didn’t have a gun him,” Washington said.
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