USA TODAY, July 17, 2013
By Yamiche Alcindor
SANFORD, Fla. — One of the people instrumental in helping George Zimmerman’s defense team pick an all-female jury says that he decided months in advance that a panel of women brought the best chance for acquittal.
Robert Hirschhorn, a jury consultant with more than 28 years experience, told USA TODAY that women are better listeners, less judgmental, and would more easily understand the fear Zimmerman felt when he shot Trayvon Martin.
“I wanted to make sure we were going to get jurors that would follow what the court of law required not what the court of public opinion wanted,” Hirschhorn said. “My number one goal was to get fair jurors that would really be able to listen to the evidence and decide the case on facts and law not emotion.”
Hirschhorn’s instincts paid off Saturday when a jury of five white women and one Hispanic woman acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the Feb. 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Hirschhorn got involved in the Zimmerman case in April when Zimmerman defense attorney Don West brought him in. Hirschhorn, who is based in Lewisville, Texas, has worked on several high profile cases including the trial of Enron founder Kenneth Lay, who was convicted of fraud and conspiracy as well as New York millionaire Robert Durst, acquitted of killing and dismembering his elderly neighbor.
Hirschhorn, who was in court every day until the jury was picked, said he was most concerned about two things: guns and honesty. And Juror B-37, the first one to publicly speak in an interview with CNN, was actually Hirschhorn’s second favorite choice for the jury because she was a former concealed-weapons permit holder and seemed truthful, he said. He had decided that people with anti-gun stances would have to be eliminated from the jury pool.
Hirschhorn’s favorite choice for the jury was a black man who was a gun owner who frequently watched FOX News. The state eliminated him.
A spokeswoman for state prosecutors did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Zimmerman, a Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer, said he shot the black teen in self-defense after being attacked. State prosecutors said Zimmerman profiled and murdered Trayvon — then lied about initiating the fight.
A beginning 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 about media exposure to news of the shooting in open court. Later, lawyers went down the list, striking jurors individually. At least six people were dismissed during this phase.
“I bet I spent 20 hours on what took 15 minutes to do,” said Hirschhorn of the final phase, in which the jury was announced.
In Zimmerman’s case, Hirschhorn did two rare things: He didn’t recommend that the defense lawyers ask for a change of venue and he didn’t have the lawyers use all their strikes against jurors.
“Sanford was the epicenter for this event,” Hirschhorn said, explaining what he told the lawyers. “If we want George to get a fair trial, we want people from his county to decide this case.”
Early on, Hirschhorn thought women would relate to Zimmerman’s story better than men and would understand the position Zimmerman found himself in the night of the shooting.
“I believed in my heart that an all-female jury was the right jury for George,” Hirschhorn said. “My experience has been that women are better at listening than men.”
The thinking behind his theory was that women would be less judgemental in a self-defense case where lawyers would be asking them to put themselves in the position Zimmerman found himself when he killed Trayvon.
Hirschhorn also knew he would need to eliminate potential jurors who held anti-gun views and who were not completely honest with their knowledge of the case and the opinions they had formed.
“In the typical high-profile case, jurors have typically formed an opinion against your client,” he said, adding that Zimmerman’s case was different. “There was a large segment of the community that was against George.There was a large segment of the community that hadn’t formed an opinion that George was guilty. The challenge for me was to find those people that can be fair to George.”
It was also Hirschhorn’s job to find out which potential jurors were not being completely honest. That thinking led to the elimination of at least three jurors. Zimmerman defense attorney, Mark O’Mara told Circuit Judge Debra Nelson one older black woman failed to tell the court about a leader of her church being a Trayvon supporter and a younger black woman failed to disclose that she was Facebook friends with a potential witness. The defense also eliminated at least one juror — a white man — who said he had issues with guns.
Juror B-37, who was the first juror to speak publicly, was Hirschhorn’s second favorite and one he thought the state would strike. Hirschhorn thought Juror B-37 was honest, sincere, and thoughtful.
The juror told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Zimmerman was “a man whose heart was in the right place,” but he went too far and did not use good judgment. Juror B-37 also said she thought Trayvon threw the first punch and attacked Zimmerman — and that Zimmerman had the right to shoot the teen.
“She really did try to do the very best job,” Hirschhorn said. “I thought she felt a lot of pain going through all this process.”
Four jurors in the Zimmerman trial issued a statement Tuesday night that said earlier comments by Juror B-37 “not in any way representative” of their views.
Hirschhorn wasn’t surprised by the four other jurors’ words because people can have different views but come up with a not-guilty verdict.
After jury selection, Hirschhorn, who considers himself the “seventh juror” of Zimmerman’s trial, spoke with Zimmerman’s attorneys almost every day during testimony and highlighted for them weaknesses and strengths in their case.
In the end, Hirschhorn is pleased with his work. He believes Zimmerman was attacked and shot Trayvon in self-defense.
“These jurors were on the front lines of a combat mission,” Hirschhorn said. “They should be commended. They shouldn’t be criticized”