Day 4: Zimmerman jurors to be sequestered up to a month



SANFORD, Fla. - The six jurors and four alternates eventually picked to hear the second-degree murder case of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman will be sequestered for the two to four weeks the trial will last, the judge presiding over the case said for the first time Thursday.

Circuit Judge Debra Nelson told a potential juror on the fourth day of selection that all panelists will be kept isolated.

Thursday, five prospective jurors were dismissed after individual voire dire, the process by which attorneys select or reject, certain jurors to hear a case. Five were dismissed for hardships before being questioned.

Judge Nelson has agreed to the attorneys' request for the pool of prospective jurors who have undergone pre-publicity qualification to reach 40 before they begin regular voire dire examination.

During the first four days of jury selection, attorneys have asked potential jurors about the hardships they would face if they were kept away from their families during the trial. And some have said they also worried about their safety if they served.

Defense attorney Don West explained to one jury candidate that if picked, she would have limited contact with her family, would be monitored by court security outside the courtroom and would have to live in a hotel for the duration.

"You would not be able to participate in day-to-day routine activities," West said. "You will be limited in contact with the outside world."

Zimmerman, a 29-year-old former neighborhood watch volunteer, is pleading not guilty to second-degree murder, claiming he shot unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense.

A 44-day delay in Zimmerman's arrest led to protests around the nation. They questioned whether the Sanford Police Department was investigating the case seriously, because Martin was a black teen from the Miami area. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.

Attorneys started off Thursday with a pool of 20 potential jurors whom they wanted for a second round of questioning. They needed an additional 10 candidates before they could move past the first round of asking questions about what potential jurors knew about the case from news coverage or social media.

By midafternoon Thursday, attorneys had interviewed 29 potential jurors over four days.

So far, there are possibly as many as 27 potential jurors, so it's possible by Friday the court could bring the 30 finalists in for the last round of questioning.

Attorneys need to find six jurors and four alternates. In Florida, 12 jurors are required only for criminal trials involving capital cases, when the death penalty is being considered.

Many potential jurors are saying sequestration could be a problem for them, but one man was very emotional about the toll it would take on him.

Potential juror N18, a native of Puerto Rico, told the prosecution he believes Zimmerman is guilty, because he believes in the Ten Commandments and believes that killing is against God's law.

N18 then said Zimmerman could have killed Martin in self-defense. When he was pressed to clarify his opinion, the potential juror opened up about how difficult his jury service has been.

"All I think about is, pray, asking God to give me strength for being here and be with me, check my answers," he said. "I go through his law. He rules my life, and I follow him. I follow his commandment, that's what I know."

On Wednesday, most of the potential jurors had no opinion as to what the verdict should be.

But on Thursday, two people said they believe Zimmerman is guilty. At least one of those potential jurors has been released.

Also, a woman said she was convinced Zimmerman fired in self-defense and should go home, but she said if the state could prove that wasn't the truth, she would accept it.

Prosecutors had their hands full with one of today's potential jurors who was very vocal about how she was convinced Zimmerman was defending himself and the kind of teenager she thought Martin was.

"I think that he probably had just started getting in with a wrong crowd, and his family wasn't aware of it," she said. "And, you know, he was going down the wrong path."

The potential juror is a white woman in her 30s. She has not been dismissed from the jury pool yet.

Potential juror E81 believes Martin may have been the aggressor and admitted she didn't want to serve on the jury, also saying that Zimmerman was just trying to protect his area when he shot Martin.

It seems the state would have to do a lot change her mind.

"George Zimmerman should go home," she stated.

"So you think he's innocent?" asked a prosecutor.

"I do," she said. "Unless something is shown to me that erases all doubt, then my mind is made up."

“The truth is the truth, there's no magic to it,” said potential juror E81.

WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said because juror E81 said she could set aside her opinion if the state offered proof to the contrary, prosecutors will most likely have to use one of their precious 10 challenges to get her out of the pool.

“The prosecutors worry that she gets into this pool of 30, and she started to answer questions, her opinions could infect and in fact influence one or more of the 29,” said Sheaffer. “He doesn't even want to take that chance.”

Potential juror E50 said he hasn't paid much attention to the case and only knew from TV that people were rallying because of it.

When asked about Martin's parents talking about his death on TV, E50 revealed a similarity.

"Being a person who's also lost a child, I can see how it can help," he said.

Then there was E75, who just graduated from high school and was surrounded by teens last year when Martin was killed.

He said classmates at his central Florida high school claimed to be friends with Martin even though Martin was from the Miami area.

But the overwhelming opinion of his classmates and friends on social media was that "George was guilty," although he made it clear he had never voiced his opinion.

When asked if he thought race played a role in the case, he said, "For sure."

"It just got people really riled up," he said.

Follow Kathi Belich on Twitter at @KBelichWFTV for gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial.