The six jurors and four alternates picked to hear the second-degree murder trial of neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman will be sequestered for the two to four weeks the trial will last, the judge presiding over the case said for the first time on Thursday.
Circuit judge Debra Nelson told a potential juror on the fourth day of selection that all panellists will be kept isolated.
During the first four days of jury selection, attorneys have asked potential jurors about the hardships they would face if they were kept away from their families during the trial. Some have said they also worried about their safety if they served.
Defence attorney Don West explained to one jury candidate that if picked she would have limited contact with her family, would be monitored by court security outside the courtroom and would have to live in a hotel for the duration.
“You would not be able to participate in day-to-day routine activities,” West said. “You will be limited in contact with the outside world.”
Zimmerman, 29, is pleading not guilty to second-degree murder, claiming he shot unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defence.
A 44-day delay before Zimmerman was arrested led to nationwide protests. They questioned whether the Sanford police department was carrying out a proper investigation since Martin was a black teenager from the Miami area. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.
Attorneys started off on Thursday, the fourth day of jury selection, with a pool of 20 potential jurors whom they wanted for a second round of questioning. They needed an additional 10 candidates before they could move past the first round of asking questions about what potential jurors knew about the case from news coverage or social media.
By mid-afternoon on Thursday, attorneys had interviewed 29 potential witnesses over four days.
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.
Potential panelists included a recent high school graduate who said classmates at his central Florida high school claimed to be friends with Martin even though Martin was from Miami. But the overwhelming opinion of his classmates and friends on social media was that Zimmerman was guilty, although he made it clear he had never voiced his opinion.
When asked if he thought race played a role in the case, he said: “For sure.”
“It just got people really riled up,” he said.
Following him was a middle-aged white woman who appeared to have already made up her mind. Her impression was that Martin’s prior use of marijuana and an image of a gun found on his cell phone were indications that “he was going down the wrong path”. She also said she believed Zimmerman was just “looking after his neighborhood”.
“I believe every American has a right to defend himself,” said the woman, known as Juror E-81. “I think the more people armed, the better.”
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