SANFORD -- Attorneys have reached an important milestone in the trial of George Zimmerman: They've found 40 potential jurors who survived the pretrial publicity phase of questioning, and can move on to other topics.
Lawyers in the case have been questioning potential jurors individually since June 10 on the topic of pretrial publicity -- what jurors know, and what their opinions are, on the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
By the start of court today, 32 prospective panel members had gotten through the pretrial publicity round and been asked to return for further questioning. The attorneys and Circuit Judge Debra Nelson wanted to get to 40 before moving on to more traditional questioning.
They reached that goal this afternoon, Nelson announced.
Before Nelson's announcement, the lawyers had just finished questioning potential juror I-44, a father of three who said he's highly skeptical of the media and its "negativity." He called himself a "sports nut."
He remembered various
aspects of what happened -- that the shooting happened on a rainy night, that Trayvon wore a hoodie -- but said he doesn't have opinions on it, other than wondering when the "avalanche" of coverage will stop.
I-44 said the protests that followed the shooting inconvenienced him, but he doesn't have strong opinions on that either: "As Americans we have the right to peaceful protest."
Earlier, the attorneys questioned an older white man identified as I-33. He said that he followed the case early on, but "the more I heard, the less I wanted to hear."
I-33 said he heard there was a 911 call involved in the case, and "some controversy as to who was doing the screaming" heard in it.
Though I-33 said he lives "in the middle of nowhere," he's heard plenty of opinions on the case. He said he doesn't have one of his own.
Before I-33, the lawyers questioned the day's seventh potential juror, an older white woman identified as I-24 who said she followed the case at first, but then "I just kinda tuned out."
Asked as a hypothetical how she would describe the case to a friend, I-24 said she'd say "a young man lost his life and another man is fighting for his life." She added that something caused Zimmerman "to feel that he needed to defend himself."
I-24, like several other potential jurors, was harshly critical of the media. News outlets have only recently reported details about Trayvon that show he "wasn't the innocent young man" initially portrayed in reports, she said.
She added the media tends to rush to judgment, a "great disservice" to the public.
Earlier, the attorneys questioned a young white woman identified as I-19, who said she hasn't followed the case and knows only the basic details: "I don't watch the news, I don't read the news," she said.
Her initial assumption, she said, was that Zimmerman did something wrong and would be jailed. But she said she didn't follow the case, and hasn't made up her mind.
I-19 said she didn't think she could be sequestered for up to a month for the trial: "I have to work," she said, adding that she could check with her boss to see if any accommodations could be made.
Before I-19, the lawyers questioned potential juror I-14, a young white man who said he heard Zimmerman called the police while "following" Trayvon, and that the police said to stop. He said he heard Trayvon wasn't armed, but may have attacked Zimmerman out of fear.
The potential juror, who was a junior in high school when the shooting happened, said he doesn't have an opinion of Zimmerman's guilt or innocence. He said he remembers some people were "really upset" by the shooting, but to him it was "just another big case."
I-14 said most of his friends, "maybe 70 percent," were supporters of Trayvon. Other friends thought Zimmerman was acting in self-defense.
Jury selection resumed this afternoon at 1:10 p.m. after a lunch break. Before lunch, the lawyers finished pretrial publicity questioning of potential juror I-5, a middle-aged African American man. He said that he was familiar with the case, but doesn't have a firm opinion.
The potential juror said he remembered watching HLN's coverage of the case, and they seemed to be biased against Zimmerman -- seemingly "prosecuting a person" before he'd had his "day in court." Other outlets were fairer, he said.
I-5 said he heard self-defense was involved with the case, at one point referring to Zimmerman as "the gentleman that was defending himself." He later said that was just in reference to things he'd heard in the media.
He said he was aware of protests after Zimmerman wasn't arrested, but felt they weren't needed: "You have to let the law work," he said, adding they may have "done more harm than good."
However, I-5 said he could set what he knows aside and try the case fairly.
Before I-5, the attorneys questioned potential juror H-86, a young white woman. She said she knows almost nothing about the case.
H-86 says she keeps up with current events, but "certain cases and things I don't follow." She said she has no opinion on this case, and hasn't seen the evidence in the news.
The juror said that she doesn't believe everything in the media anyway; news outlets seemed to slant their coverage of something that happened to a friend of hers, H-86 said.
Earlier, the attorneys just questioning potential juror H-69, a pregnant woman who said she saw news about the case on television at work.
The juror mentioned several times that she recalled seeing pictures of Trayvon as "a young child" in the media, but was told by a coworker that image was "not accurate" -- Trayvon was older when he was killed, H-69 said.
H-69 said she believes everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but doesn't have a strong opinion on this case and hasn't followed it.
"No, I haven't formed a concrete opinion," H-69 said.
The potential juror said that she is more than five months pregnant. Being away from her family for the trial would be a hardship, H-69 said, but not insurmountable if they're allowed to have some contact with her, and if she can still see her doctor.
The first potential juror called today, H-81, said that he watches local and national news and has seen coverage of the case. He described the shooting as an "incident" between Zimmerman and Trayvon, and "Mr. Martin ended up dead." H-81 called the shooting a "very tragic situation."
The potential juror said he saw press conferences by defense attorney Mark O'Mara -- he called the attorney's remarks "more truthful than not" -- but said he could "absolutely" set aside what he's heard if chosen to serve on the jury.
During questioning, it was revealed that H-81 has two pending civil cases before Nelson, but he said that wouldn't play a factor in this case.
Ultimately, the attorneys are looking for 10 Seminole County residents -- six jurors and four alternates -- who'll decide the case.
Nelson has confirmed that the jurors ultimately seated in the case will be sequestered until it's over. She estimated the trial would last two to four weeks.
Zimmerman, a former Neighborhood Watch volunteer, is accused of profiling, pursuing and killing Trayvon, an unarmed teen from South Florida. He is charged with second-degree murder.
He says he fired in self-defense Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford after Trayvon attacked him.