Rulings Push Jury Selection Over Florida Teen's Death Into 2nd Week

by
Reuters
A judge's decision to sequester jurors for the murder trial of a Florida neighborhood watchman who shot dead an unarmed black teenager in 2012 will slow down an already painstaking selection process to find impartial minds amid saturation media coverage.

A judge's decision to sequester jurors for the murder trial of a Florida neighborhood watchman who shot dead an unarmed black teenager in 2012 will slow down an already painstaking selection process to find impartial minds amid saturation media coverage.

Jury selection in the racially-charged case of teenager Trayvon Martin appeared to be headed into a second week as prosecutors and defense lawyers on Friday worked to cope with the judge's sequester order and another decision to expand the pool of potential jurors.

"The whole purpose is to isolate you from the world. They put you in a bubble," said David Weinstein, a former state prosecutor in Miami with the law firm Clarke Silverglate, who is not involved in the trial.

He said a lot of potential jurors "won't like it and they'll do anything to get off the jury. They are going to start dropping like flies."

The search for a jury of six and four alternates has been moving at a snail's pace since Monday in a courtroom in the central Florida town of Sanford and it remains unclear when the panel will be sworn in.

They will hear evidence in the trial of the neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, on a charge of second degree murder for which he faces possible life imprisonment if convicted. Zimmerman said he acted in self-defense.

An order by Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson on Thursday to sequester the jury means jurors will be confined to a hotel without access to cell phones, internet, and TV news throughout the trial, which is expected to last two to four weeks.

Sequestered juries are generally required to dine together and TV access may be limited to pay-per-view only in their rooms, excluding even major sporting events. Jurors are usually allowed to pay essential bills online.

The case has drawn intense scrutiny and ignited protests when police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, a 29-year-old light-skinned Hispanic, after he shot and killed Martin, 17, during a confrontation in a gated community in Sanford in February 2012.

Five potential jurors were excused on Thursday on grounds of hardship shortly after the judge announced her decision to sequester the people who will eventually be chosen.

The judge also agreed to allow lawyers to select a pool of 40 potential jurors, up from 30, for a second phase of questioning. So far, only 23 potential jurors have been selected from a pool of 500 in a first round of questioning about the impact of pre-trial publicity.

The second round of questioning allows lawyers to explore issues relating to the case, such as Florida's controversial gun laws, and racial profiling, and could take several more days to complete. (Writing and editing by David Adams and Grant McCool)