Jury selection in the closely watched George Zimmerman trial began in methodical fashion Monday as lawyers introduced themselves to potential jurors, then allowed them time to fill out questionnaires.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys on Monday afternoon briefly began reviewing questionnaires filled out by 100 possible jurors, with hopes of calling up 21 for questioning in court. They will resume later in the afternoon after a lunch break.
Lawyers, the judge and Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder in the February 2012 killing of Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin, introduced themselves to the pool in the juror waiting room, outside the view of the media.
On the first day of jury selection, scores of reporters from across the country filled the fifth-floor court of Seminole Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, and an overflow room on the first floor of the courthouse. Outside, a handful of Trayvon Martin supporters gathered under the watch of reporters and deputies.
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Trayvon’s parents, accompanied by their lawyers, sat in the second row. One row up was Angela Corey, the elected State Attorney based in Jacksonville, whose office was appointed to the case by Florida’s governor.
"We waited over a year for the trial. We were patient for the arrest, and we will be patient for the trial,'' said Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin. We will let the judicial system go through the process andhowever much time they need to present the case, we will be there, we have to support our son.''
Monday’s court action was observed by more than 20 members of the public, some of whom had entered a lottery last week to earn a spot. One of them was John Mcclanahan, 60, a train engineer from Sanford who was surprised to find himself having parked next to Zimmerman’s defense attorney, Mark O’Mara.
"I get to see all these people on TV, so that’s pretty cool," Mcclanahan said.
Also attending Monday was Miami pastor Walter T. Richardson, the chairman of Miami-Dade’s Community Relations Board. He drove up from Miami to gauge the mood as his home county prepares to deal with an eventual verdict down the road.
"So far, everything seems peaceful," said Richardson, a pastor at Cutler Bay’s Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church.
Jury selection began Monday more than a year after Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon on a rainy night at a Sanford gated community.
Trayvon, who was unarmed, had just returned from buying candy and a drink at a nearby convenience store. Prosecutors say Zimmerman, a self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman, "profiled" the teen and engaged in a violent scuffle, shooting Trayvon once in the chest.
Zimmerman, who cooperated with Sanford police, claimed the teen attacked him and he fired in self defense as his head was being bashed into the concrete.
When Sanford police initially did not arrest Zimmerman, outrage grew as the Martin family and civil rights leaders called for his prosecution. Eventually, prosecutors filed a charge of second-degree murder against Zimmerman.
The saga inflamed racial tensions in this small Central Florida town, where some black residents have long complained of unequal treatment by police.
And the case drew scrutiny on Florida’s self-defense law, which in 2005 was changed to eliminate a citizen’s duty to retreat before using deadly force I when faced with harm. Critics say the law encourages vigilantism.