Day 5: Potential Zimmerman trial jurors OK with sequestration



SANFORD, Fla. - This week, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson announced that jurors chosen to serve on the George Zimmerman trial will be sequestered, but potential jurors who were questioned on Friday didn’t seem to mind.

To date, 28 individuals have been accepted to the pool of prospective jurors who will proceed to regular voir dire, the process by which they will be questioned about their backgrounds and potential biases before being chosen to sit on the jury. 

Two members of the pool were dismissed Friday.

The Frye hearing, a general acceptance test to determine the admissibility of scientific evidence,  will reconvene on Monday at 4 p.m.

The court will hear testimony from an expert witness for the defense at that hearing Monday.

Zimmerman claims he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder charges.

“Although cost may have played a factor in the judge's decision, the cost of retrying this case if one of those jurors is tainted would far exceed the cost of housing these jurors,” said WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer.

Sequestering the 16 Casey Anthony jurors for six weeks cost more than $230,000.

But now, those who cannot deal with the hardship of sequestration can be weeded out and released instead of staying and facing questioning, possibly for nothing. 

Some potential jurors have already been excused because of the hardship they said sequestration would cause them.

Sequestered jurors will have limited contact with their families, will spend the night at a hotel and their actions will be monitored by court security outside the courtroom during the duration of the trial.

The law comes down to what the juror says about whether the hardship will prevent them from concentrating on the case to fairly reach a verdict. If the juror says it will, they're gone, said Sheaffer.

Sheaffer said the legal hardships that can be considered would be issues involving transportation, child care, disability and work or financial difficulties, which sequestration could create hardships.

“The hardship really rests with the perceived hardship with the potential juror themselves,” said Sheaffer. “The court gives wide discretion.”

At least one potential juror who had faced questioning for about an hour and had passed to the next level of questioning dropped out after finding out for sure that she would be sequestered.

But sequestration did not seem to be much of an issue with most of the jury candidates who were questioned on Friday.

“I mean, my birthday is in that time, but I can move it,” said potential juror G63. “I can move the party back.”

As of Friday, 29 jurors are moving through to next round and will return to court Tuesday. Seven potential jurors were told to return for questioning Monday, because they weren’t able to be questioned Friday.

Late Friday afternoon, potential juror G87 was dismissed after she told lawyers she works at Bentley Elementary School, which is across the street from the shooting scene and that she had seen balloons at a memorial for Martin.

Of 23 candidates that had been asked to return as of Thursday, 16 are white; four are black; two are Hispanic; and one is Asian-American.

The racial and ethnic makeup of potential jurors is relevant because prosecutors claim Zimmerman profiled 17-year-old Trayvon Martin when he followed him through his gated Sanford community shortly before the unarmed teen was fatally shot.

The case prompted public outrage, as some critics believed authorities initially didn't investigate the case thoroughly because Martin was a black teen from the Miami area.
During questioning of a potential juror Friday, defense attorney Mark O'Mara specifically asked a man in his 20s who identified as mixed race what his racial background was. The man said German, Filipino, Chinese and Spanish.
The group of 23 jury candidates who were asked to return also skewed overwhelmingly female and middle-aged.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys want to build a pool of 40 potential jurors who have been screened for any influence of pretrial publicity before they move to a second round of questioning. Attorneys had interviewed 37 potential jurors over five days by the lunch break on Friday.At least 75 potential jurors already have been dismissed.
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.

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