SANFORD, Fla. — Attorneys trying to seat a jury in George Zimmerman's trial for shooting an unarmed teen stopped questioning a white man in his 20s on Wednesday after he gave answers that indicated he wouldn't be impartial.
The juror, known as “R-39” because Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson ruled that potential panelists can be identified only by their numbers, said that “murder is murder,” even if it's self-defense. Zimmerman, 29, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and says he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year in self-defense.
A 44-day delay in Zimmerman's arrest last year led to protests around the U.S. Demonstrators questioned whether the Sanford Police Department was seriously investigating the case of Martin, a black teen from the Miami area who was visiting his father in Sanford. Zimmerman, who was a neighborhood watch volunteer in his gated community of Sanford, identifies himself as Hispanic.
The potential juror left the Florida courtroom without defense attorneys asking questions.
Attorneys had interviewed two dozen potential jurors by the end of the third day of selection, including 10 on Wednesday. At least 70 jury candidates have been dismissed.
Potential jurors questioned Wednesday included a white man in his 50s whose prior Facebook posting earned a question from Judge Nelson. The nature of the posting wasn't disclosed, but the judge asked the self-described painter and musician if he had made it. He said yes and left the courtroom a few minutes later. Earlier in the questioning, he said he thought Zimmerman should have been arrested but he hadn't formed an opinion the latter's guilt or innocence.
Also interviewed Wednesday: a white woman in her mid-20s who expressed concerns about her safety if picked, a black woman in her 20s who lived near the shooting scene but said she hadn't formed an opinion about it, and a white woman in her 50s who said she didn't like the negative image of Sanford that was portrayed in the media after the shooting.
A white man in his 40s said serving on the jury would create a hardship for his young family, and a black woman in her 50s said she initially thought the Sanford Police Department should have done more to investigate the shooting. The investigation was eventually taken over by the state attorney's office in Jacksonville.
In the jury selection process established by Nelson, once 30 jurors have been questioned individually about pretrial exposure and have not been dismissed for cause or hardships, they will be brought together as a group for broader questioning by lawyers on both sides. Thus far, Zimmerman's attorneys have been unable to find potential jurors who hadn't heard something about the fatal shooting of Martin.
Nelson has said she will keep the identities of the selected jurors anonymous but rejected a defense request to sequester the initial jury pool of 500 residents.
Attorneys need to find six jurors and four alternates. In Florida, 12 jurors are required only for criminal trials involving capital cases, when the death penalty is being considered.
Defense attorneys have asked potential jurors whether being isolated during the trial would be a hardship, indicating they plan to ask Nelson to sequester the jury.