Attorneys clear issues before opening statements; prosecutors can say ‘profiled’ at Zimmerman trial
SANFORD, Fla. (AP) – With a jury now seated to consider a murder charge against George Zimmerman, attorneys are turning to unresolved issues Friday before opening statements next week, including whether a prosecution expert can testify that screams for help on a 911 call came from 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Six female jurors were chosen Thursday for the second-degree murder trial of Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer who says he fired on the unarmed black teenager in self-defense last year in a gated community in Sanford. Zimmerman is pleading not guilty.
Opening statements are scheduled Monday. But pending issues to be resolved Friday include whether the audio expert can testify. Circuit Judge Debra Nelson said she would make a decision Friday. Defense attorneys don’t want the expert to testify, claiming his analysis is flawed.
The jury’s selection Thursday followed nearly two weeks in which potential jurors were quizzed by attorneys about their views on firearms, crime, race and self-defense.
“We’ve got a jury, which is great!” defense attorney Mark O’Mara said after jurors were sworn in Thursday. “We found six jurors that said they’ll be fair, they’ll be impartial and most important not allow any external pressures, sympathy, biases, political expediency to affect the way they’re going to look at the evidence.”
Prosecutors have refused to comment for the duration of the trial. In a statement, attorneys representing Martin’s parents said they expected the jurors to be fair and impartial.
“This case has always been about equal justice,” they said. “Equal justice under the law is not a black value or a white value. It’s an American value. ”
Prosecutors have said Zimmerman, 29, racially profiled Martin as he walked back through the central Florida community from a convenience store on a rainy night in February 2012 wearing a dark hooded shirt.
Race and ethnicity have played a prominent role in the case and even clouded jury selection. While the court did not release the racial makeup of the jury, the panel appeared to reporters covering the selection process to be made up of five white women and a sixth who may be Hispanic.
Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.
Two of the jurors recently moved to the area – one from Iowa and one from Chicago – and two are involved with rescuing animals as their hobbies.
One juror had a prior arrest, but she said it was disposed of and she thought she was treated fairly. Two jurors have guns in their homes. All of their names have been kept confidential and the panel will be sequestered for the trial.
The central Florida community of Sanford is in Seminole County, which is 78.5 percent white and 16.5 percent black.
In Florida, 12 jurors are required only for criminal trials involving capital cases, when the death penalty is being considered.
If convicted, Zimmerman could face a potential life sentence.
On Feb. 26, 2012, Zimmerman spotted Martin, whom he did not recognize, walking in the gated townhome community in Sanford where Zimmerman lived and where the fiancee of Martin’s father also resided. There had been a rash of recent break-ins, and Zimmerman was wary of strangers walking through the complex.
The two eventually got into a struggle, and Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest with his 9mm handgun. He was charged 44 days after the shooting, after a special prosecutor was appointed to review the case.
Martin’s shooting death and the initial decision not to charge Zimmerman led to public outrage and demonstrations around the nation, with some accusing Sanford police of failing to thoroughly investigate.
The six jurors were culled from a pool of 40 candidates who made it into a second round of questioning. Two men and two women also were picked as alternates.
KYLE HIGHTOWER MIKE SCHNEIDER
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