The George Zimmerman second-degree murder trial is underway in a central Florida courtroom today, after the judge denied a last minute request for a delay by defense attorney Mark O’Mara. The lawyer for 29 year-old George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch captain who shot and killed unarmed 17 year-old Trayvon Martin last year, claimed he needed “several more weeks” to prepare some last minute evidence, according to Fox News on Monday, June 10.
O’Mara blamed prosecutors for delaying turning over evidence, and claimed he needs time to interview an attorney for Martin’s family. “We’re not fully ready and need more time”, he argued.
Circuit Judge Debra Nelson denied his request and began the process of jury selection in the case. A pool of 100-200 prospective jurors will be separated into groups Monday, with each potential juror being brought into a room to be questions by the judge, as well as the attorneys for both the state and defense.
The February 26, 2012, incident in the gated Retreat at Twin Lakes community in Sanford, Fla., sparked a fierce national debate about such issues as gun control, equal justice and race.
Zimmerman, who is half Hispanic, fatally shot Martin, a black teenager, and was not arrested for 40 days, citing Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” statute under self-defense laws.
It is stipulated that Zimmerman fired his 9-mm. handgun after calling police, and exiting his pickup truck to follow Martin against 911 operator’s orders. He then got into a fight with the youth on a rainy night, as Trayvon was walking back to his fathers house after visiting a convenience store.
Experts warn the state faces a tricky jury selection process because the typical “conservative, law-and-order” juror usually favored by prosecutors, may in fact sympathize with Zimmerman, according to CBS News.
Monday, the first group of 100 to 200 potential jurors out of a total pool of around 500 reported to the criminal courthouse in Seminole County, Florida. The entire selection process is expected to take one to three weeks.
Six jurors and four alternates are expected to be chosen to decide Zimmerman’s fate. There is what’s being labeled a “flip” in this case, with the typically conservative jurors that are prone to convict who may in fact end up siding with George Zimmerman.
“This is one of these topsy-turvy cases where the conservative/liberal split kind of flips upside down”, said Jeffrey Abramson, a law and government professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.
“…it’s very possible that those jurors with conservative backgrounds might sympathize with vigilante justice and the right to carry arms….it’s very difficult to pin down who is a good juror for which side because of this flip”, Abramson added.
It hasn’t been announced whether jurors will be sequestered once empaneled, but it is known that the jurors’ identities will be kept secret and they’ll be referred to only by number. They also will not be photographed during the trial.
So far Monday, the expected mobs of people have stayed away from the Seminole courthouse. Trayvon’s father Tracy Martin expressed his relief at the trial starting. He told reporters outside the courthouse that he and his family seek a fair and impartial trial.
“We ask that the community continue to stay peaceful as we place our faith in the justice system”, Martin said.
Prosecutors are expected to argue Zimmerman started the fight and paint him as a wanna-be police officer who overstepped his authority as a neighborhood watch volunteer, patrolling the Orlando-area community where Trayvon’s father and fiancée lived.
The case is expected to last about six weeks. If convicted, Zimmerman faces life in prison.