USA TODAY, June 21, 2013
Link to video: http://usat.ly/124zI1c
By Yamiche Alcindor
SANFORD, Fla. — Now that a jury for the trial of George Zimmerman has been picked, lawyers for both sides will do their best to convince a group of everyday people that Zimmerman either murdered Trayvon Martin or killed him in self-defense.
How the jurors — six women — and alternates — two women and two men — will weigh lawyers’ arguments, evidence and witnesses’ testimonies may be impacted by their life experiences, legal experts say. Circuit Judge Debra Nelson made it very clear that jurors must use only evidence presented in court to reach a decision on Zimmerman’s actions.
Still, lawyers from both sides and legal experts indicated that jurors’ backgrounds matter.
“These jurors will decide this case based upon their life experiences,” said Elizabeth Parker, a criminal defense attorney. “It is natural in this type of case for a juror to put themselves in the shoes of George Zimmerman, to imagine how they would have reacted to the same situation.”
Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, said Thursday that jurors must use common sense gained from their lives to reach a verdict. “Our experiences give us common sense,” he said, adding that the experiences shouldn’t create bias toward either side.
Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda made a similar statement when describing how jurors will decide whether Zimmerman justifiably killed Martin, 17. “You use your God-given common sense,” he said.
Zimmerman, 29, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. The neighborhood watch volunteer says he killed the teen in self-defense Feb. 26, 2012, after being attacked. Prosecutors say he profiled and murdered Martin.
Opening statements for the trial start Monday.
How lawyers got these jurors and alternates involves an unusually comprehensive process.
An initial group of 211 people filled out juror questionnaires, which were then read by lawyers and Circuit Judge Debra Nelson. They chose who would make it to the next round for individual questioning in open court.
Only after questioning 58 people about their exposure to coverage of the case did lawyers narrow the group to 40 people for traditional juror questioning.
Thursday, lawyers went down the list, striking jurors individually. At least six people were dismissed during this phase.
In the end, Judge Nelson ruled that six women would be the jury and that two men and two women would serve as alternates.
The jurors in this case may have a lot of work ahead of them as lawyers have estimated that the trial will last two to four weeks.
Jurors will most likely have to decide whether circumstantial evidence is enough to convict Zimmerman and whether voice identification experts’ findings should be trusted.
“While a large population of the country might watch this trial, the final six jurors’ opinion of the case are the only ones that matter,” said Randy Reep, a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville. “It would be impossible to overstate how critical the jurors are to the trial.”
Last week, Judge Nelson ruled that the jurors will be sequestered, housed as a group away from their families and friends. They will have limited contact with loved ones and limited access to the Internet. They will not be allowed to discuss the case with family members or friends or on the Internet.
The ruling is an important one that will keep jurors away from media coverage and feeling pressured, Reep said.
Judge Nelson ruled that jurors’ identities will be kept secret for now, and she’ll decide later when their names can be made public.
Unemployed jurors or jurors whose employers don’t pay them while they serve will get $15 a day for the first three days and $30 from the fourth day on. Jurors with employers who pay them while on jury duty don’t get paid for the first three days, then get $30 from the fourth day on.
During the three rounds of questioning, lawyers learned a fair amount of information about the people they have chosen to decide Zimmerman’s culpability.
Here are several facts about the jurors and alternates who are identified in public by numbers and letters:
THE JURY OF SIX
B29: She is a young woman of color who recently moved with her husband and children to Central Florida from Chicago. The juror, who has eight children and has been married for 10 years, once worked as a certified nursing assistant. She learned of the shooting in the news and first assumed Trayvon Martin was 12 or 13 based on pictures in the media just after the shooting. A lot of people in her family took “the child’s side” but she said she didn’t form an opinion. She said that when she lived in Chicago, there were reports of many shootings, so she didn’t pay special attention to Martin’s death. She likes watching Bravo, episodes of the Real Housewives series, and is still adjusting to a calmer life in Florida.
B76: The middle-aged white woman with short brown hair and glasses has lived in Seminole County since 1995. She has two children, one of which is an attorney. She’s heard about the case only three or four times, she says. During questioning, she said she thought Zimmerman was a security guard. During questioning about her media exposure, she turned to Martin’s mom, Sybrina Fulton, and said, “Is that his mom?” Prosecutors tried to get her dismissed for that moment, but Judge Nelson ruled that she could stay. B76 said it’s natural to have sympathy for people, but she understands that in this case that shouldn’t impact deliberations. A pet lover, she manages rental properties.
B37: The middle-aged white woman is the daughter of an Air Force captain and has been married to a space attorney for 20 years. She has two children, 24 and 27, and works in a management position. During questioning, she told lawyers she knew a “broad spectrum” of names, but she hasn’t kept up with the case. “Newspapers are usually in the parrot’s cage,” she told lawyers. Thursday, she told O’Mara that she had an issue with what kinds of guns people can own, that someone obtaining a concealed weapons permit doesn’t mean they will act responsibly and that more training is needed for concealed permit holders. She has three dogs, four cats and “a couple of lizards” and has been called to jury duty four times before this case.
B51: She is an older white woman with short brown hair who has lived in Seminole County for nine years. She retired from a job in real estate five years ago, has no children and often visits her elderly parents and siblings in north Florida. Last week, she told lawyers she thought Zimmerman may have done something wrong because he was arrested. She brought up that she heard the police investigation may not have been carried out properly. “The end result was somebody thought it was mishandled,” she said.
E6: The middle-aged white woman with blond hair is married and has two kids, ages 11 and 13. After the shooting, she talked about “appearance” and “safety” with her kids. She got emotional when talking about being a victim of domestic violence. One of the most talkative people during the group questioning, she often spoke up when lawyers questioned potential jurors, asking how jurors would deal with “paranoid” and “anxious” people who claim self-defense. Prosecutors tried at least two times to get her stricken from the jury for recognizing four names on the potential witness list. Judge Nelson let her stay. E6 is a churchgoer who used to volunteer at a school and likes gardening and babysitting.
E40: The middle-aged white woman moved to Seminole County in November from Iowa and worked around the country as a safety officer. She is married to a chemical engineer, has a 28-year-old son and does not have a Facebook account. She remembered little about the shooting, summing up her knowledge for lawyers as “I recall the phrase ‘gated community, teenager.’ … That’s about it.” She likes to travel, read and watch sports — especially football.
E54: The 14-year resident of Seminole County is a white, middle-aged man who grew up in Central Florida and has two stepchildren. He wrote on his juror questionnaire that Zimmerman was “attacked and beaten.” He said later during questioning that he doesn’t really know what happened that night and could keep an open mind. He enjoys exploring his family’s heritage and has spent time tracing his ancestry.
B72: The young man says he heard about the case but didn’t focus on the shooting and doesn’t watch much news. “From what I got, I didn’t care about it,” he said, adding later that he is a “stoic” person who believes sympathy should not factor into a jury’s verdict. He said he is “naturally suspicious” of people but would not have “pursued” someone. Instead, he would wait for police if an issue arose, he told lawyers. The young man is a maintenance technician who spends a lot of time at the gym and walking his dog.
E13: She is a young white woman and has lived in Seminole County for 17 years. A student, she worked as a surgical assistant for about two years and has never served on a jury. During individual questioning, she told lawyers that she never talked to other students about the shooting. She said she hasn’t seen any photos of Trayvon Martin or at least hasn’t paid attention to any since shooting. She is a member of a church and owns horses.
E28: The middle-aged white woman with glasses has lived in Seminole County since 1985. She is originally from Texas, has two adult children and has been married for about 28 years. Her answers during questioning indicated that she knows little about the case and that work absorbs most of her life. She’s a soccer coach and volunteers with Relay For Life and Girl Scouts.