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George Zimmerman trial: Potential jurors asked about race, guns

June 20, 2013|By Michael Muskal
  • George Zimmerman talks to one of his lawyers in court in Sanford, Fla., on Wednesday. Jury selection will continue Thursday.
George Zimmerman talks to one of his lawyers in court in Sanford, Fla., on… (Joe Burbank / McClatchy-Tribune )

Race and guns will probably take center stage Thursday as the defense in the murder trial of George Zimmerman gets a chance to continue questioning potential jurors in the highly charged case.

The trial of Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, moved into a new phase Wednesday as lawyers began questioning a smaller pool of potential jurors, asking about attitudes and concentrating on race and gun issues.

Lawyers began on June 10 by winnowing the jury pool down from more than 100 to a group of 40, seemingly large enough to supply the six jurors and four alternates.

PHOTOS: The controversial case in pictures

The six jurors will decide the fate of Zimmerman, 29, who fatally shot Martin on the rainy night of Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer at the time, apologized for shooting Martin, but insisted he acted in self-defense.

Judge Debra S. Nelson formally read the charge against Zimmerman as his parents made their first appearance in the courtroom Wednesday. Also in court were Martin’s parents.

"The object is to obtain a jury who will impartially try this case based on the evidence presented in the courtroom," Nelson told the jurors.

Twenty-seven of the 40 potential jurors are white, seven are black, three are mixed race and three are Latino, according to the Associated Press.

The prosecution says Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Latino, focused on Martin because of the teenager’s race. Martin, 17, who was black, was returning from a convenience store and was carrying candy and iced tea when he and Zimmerman had their confrontation.

In the first round of questioning, the prosecution and defense were limited to asking mainly about the effects of the media and possible pretrial publicity in the case that prompted demonstrations across the country. In the current round, the questioning will be significantly broader as the lawyers investigate attitudes.

GRAPHIC: Who's who in the Trayvon Martin case

“Does anyone think race should matter,” prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda asked the group Wednesday, after noting that the charges involve the shooting of an African American.

“No,” chorused the group, whose names and images are being shielded from the audience viewing the proceedings broadcast on the Web.

De la Rionda noted that Martin was a minor. “Does anyone think his life mattered less” because of his age, the prosecutor asked.

Again the group chorused back: “No.”

“The 2nd Amendment,” the prosecutor also asked, referring to the constitutional right to bear arms. “Does anyone have an issue with that?”

Again the group said no.

In questioning, several of the jurors indicated that they owned weapons, including pistols and long guns, and used them for hunting or sport.

The selected jurors will be sequestered for the trial, Judge Nelson said again Wednesday. The trial will run two to four weeks, she said.

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