On the first day of his trial Monday, George Zimmerman got a look at the people who might decide whether he committed second-degree murder when he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
The first group of 100 potential jurors filled out questionnaires about themselves and their ability to serve on the jury as prosecutors and defense attorneys sought to find six objective members and four alternates. In Florida, 12 jurors are required only for criminal trials involving capital cases, when the death penalty is being considered.
Zimmerman was present in the jury holding room as his defense attorneys and prosecutors introduced themselves to the potential jurors.
Attorneys from both sides then leafed through the questionnaire responses in the courtroom.
The selection of jurors who both the prosecution and defense believe can be objective in the highly publicized case is expected to take all week, if not longer. The judge has said she will keep the identities of the selected jurors anonymous, but she rejected a defense request to sequester the entire jury pool of 500 residents.
The trial was taking place in the Orlando suburb of Sanford, Fla., the scene of massive protests last year by people who were angered that police waited 44 days before charging Zimmerman. Other demonstrations were held around the country, and the case drew worldwide attention as it fanned a debate about race, equal justice under the law and gun control.
There is no dispute Zimmerman shot an unarmed Martin, 17, during a fight on a rainy night in February 2012. Prosecutors will try to show the neighborhood watch volunteer racially profiled the black teenager, while Zimmerman’s attorney must convince jurors Zimmerman pulled his 9 mm handgun and fired a bullet into the high school student’s chest because he feared for his life.
Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, says he shot Martin in self-defense. If convicted, he could get a life sentence.
Under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, Zimmerman, 29, could shoot Martin in self-defense if it was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.