Photo courtesy: Getty Images
Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY
SANFORD, Fla. - After nine days of questioning, a jury has been chosen for the trial of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin.
The jury of six women will decide whether Zimmerman, 29, is guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, 17, in a case that captured the nation's attention last year.
Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, said as the jury was settled, "This is probably as critical if not more critical than the evidence."
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. The neighborhood watch volunteer says he killed the teen in self-defense after being attacked. Prosecutors say Zimmerman confronted Martin because he was African American.
In an unusually involved 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.
O'Mara and Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda both said they wanted to make sure someone who had already rached a conclusion about Zimmerman's guilt or innocence would not make the cut. Such a "stealth juror," they said, would hurt both sides.
"It's devastating to the case to have a juror who has an agenda," O'Mara said. Such a rogue juror, he said, would cause people would lose faith in the system.
Thursday, O'Mara questioned the remaining 40 potential jurors about what they thought of Florida's stand-your-ground law, claiming self-defense and taking the law into your own hands.
O'Mara told the prospective jurors that they could not make a decision out of sympathy and would have to be comfortable finding Zimmerman not guilty despite the loss to Trayvon's family.
Wednesday, de la Rionda spent nearly six hours questioning more than a dozen jurors about several topics, including whether it is right to judge people based on their clothing and race and whether people should take the law into their own hands.
"We are here to seek justice," de la Rionda said to the group. "This is your opportunity to live the Constitution."
Laying a foundation for his arguments, de la RIonda told potential jurors that circumstantial evidence is just as good as direct evidence and that experts sometimes disagree.
Legal experts have said that the racial makeup of the jury would be a key factor for both sides. Five of the six women are white. They also said people's views on law enforcement, self-defense and the use of firearms would be important.
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.
"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 defense attorney based in Jacksonville. "It would be impossible to overstate how critical the jurors are to the trial."