SANFORD, Fla. - Prosecutors and defense attorneys spent Wednesday trying to narrow their pool of 40 prospective jurors to the final six, plus four alternates in George Zimmerman’s murder trial.
Zimmerman, 29, has maintained he shot and killed Trayvon Martin in self-defense after the 17-year-old attacked him in February 2012 in his Sanford neighborhood.
Opening statements are could begin as early as Monday, defense attorney Mark O’Mara said on Wednesday.
Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda started the day by asking individual jurors about how long they have lived in Florida; whether they supervised workers; their hobbies; if they had previously served on juries; if they're married; and what their spouses did for a living.
He also warned jurors that they would have to forget about anything they knew about the case previously and base their information only on what they heard in the courtroom.
"What you heard and saw anywhere outside the courtroom can't factor into your decision," he said. "What you saw on TV or on the Internet or read or what the media said is completely irrelevant."
Twenty-seven of the 40 potential jurors are white, seven are black, three are mixed race and three are Hispanic. Twenty-four are women and 16 are men.
Seven of the 40 have been in jail while others have been convicted of crimes. Those in the pool include an arm wrestler, a competitive barbecue cook, a woman who is five months pregnant and someone who served on four juries in Alaska.
“I was treated completely fairly. I was deserving of it,” juror E7 said of being arrested.
“Do you feel that you were treated unfairly at the stage of being arrested or at the stage of being prosecuted, or both?" de la Rionda asked potential juror I33 of their arrest.
“To tell you the truth, both,” I33 responded. “And I wouldn't hold it against anybody."
Potential juror P67, a Mexican-American, was so uncomfortable with the process he asked for privacy.
“Can you tell me again why we can't do this in private?" he asked.
De la Rionda also asked direct questions about the value of Martin's life.
"Does anybody believe that his life wasn't as valuable because he was a minor?" he asked.
"No," the potential jurors responded.
"(The) victim in this case is black, African-American. Does anybody believe his life is worth less because of that?" asked de la Rionda.
“No,” was the response he got.
Few of the potential jurors were laughing when the prosecutor tried to tell them serving on the jury wouldn't be so bad.
“Did you enjoy serving as a juror?" de la Rionda asked one potential juror.
“I did,” the man responded.
“Did everybody hear that?” asked de la Rionda while laughing.
“It was one day. We weren't sequestered,” the potential juror responded.
At least nine potential jurors said they own guns and more than half said they know people well who own guns.
When the prosecution asked the group whether they believe in the Second Amendment right to bear arms, everyone said yes.
The state also asked about boxing, because one of the witnesses told police he saw Martin striking Zimmerman in a way that resembled mixed martial arts.
Potential juror H18 said he knew of MMA and even trained himself.
“How much training did you actually get in martial arts?" asked de la Rionda?
“Just a green belt. Then after that I joined kickboxing,” said H18.
In court on Wednesday, Zimmerman's parents, Robert and Gladys Zimmerman,
were present. They later issued a statement that read, "Our position as a family has been clear and consistent since the night George was attacked. We are all sympathetic to the tragic reality of outliving a son or daughter. However, George acted in self-defense."
Judge Debra Nelson read the second-degree murder charge before the potential jurors who moved on to the second round of questioning.
"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.
The racial and ethnic makeup of potential jurors is relevant, prosecutors
said.They have argued that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer for his gated community in Sanford, profiled Martin when he followed the black teen last year as Martin was walking back from a convenience store to the house of his father's fiancee.
Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, fatally shot Martin a short time later following a confrontation that was partially captured on a 911 call.
The 40 potential jurors represent a cross-section of people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds who have varying levels of familiarity with the case's basic facts.
Through an initial round of interviews that included questions focused on pretrial exposure to the case via the news media or other means, lawyers were able to find a group of potential jurors who said they could focus on testimony provided in the courtroom.
Nelson said attorneys for the prosecution and the state would be allowed to ask much broader questions in the second round than they did in the first.
Nelson said last week that once pared down, the final jury would be sequestered throughout the trial to protect it from outside influence.
Follow Kathi Belich on Twitter at @KBelichWFTV for gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial.