SANFORD, Fla. - As Day 3 of the George Zimmerman trial wrapped up Wednesday, prosecutors and the defense are nearly two-thirds of the way to their goal of 30 potential jurors.
Dozens of people have already been dismissed and the candidates who made it through faced intense questioning before reaching a smaller pool, where the court hopes to find the six jurors and four alternates it needs, Channel 9’s Kathi Belich reported.
Zimmerman claims he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense in February 2012. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder charges.
On Wednesday, potential jurors E22 and B87 were forthcoming with opinions in the case but both said they could set aside their opinions if they were to serve on the jury.
Juror E22, a black, middle-aged woman, said she noticed that the news coverage was more balanced, less inflamed as time passed. She said she has not formed an opinion about what happened the night of the shooting but does have an opinion about how the Sanford police handled the shooting.
Juror E22, a middle-aged white man, said he’d question anyone who said they didn’t have an opinion, but it took about 15 minutes for the state to get him to say what his opinion is.
“Initial feeling that I had is that police should have been more interactive, they should have been more proactive in dealing with the situation,” he said.
But the other potential jurors who were questioned Wednesday said they had no opinion whatsoever on what happened and would need more information.
“He was told to not follow, I think?” said juror B37. “He thought maybe he was doing the right thing by not following. Apparently that didn't work out, you know?"
“So far, as I had understood, there hadn't been a trial, so you can't really haven an opinion,” said juror M75.
WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said at this point, the lawyers accept those answers at face value, but those jury candidates will face another round of questioning.
“You trust their answers, but you verify,” said Sheaffer. “You verify by asking them other questions that may unmask that they in fact have formed opinion."
However, only one potential juror, R39, said Wednesday he had formed an opinion already.
“Murder is murder," R39 said.
The juror left the courtroom without defense attorneys asking questions. He was the 17th juror questioned by attorneys over three days.
The man told prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda that he probably wouldn't be able to put aside his bias if selected for the jury, saying, "There's no dead man telling his tale."
Two women told attorneys they haven't formed opinions yet, even though friends and family have.
"You can arrive at an opinion from speculation, but you need the facts first," one woman said.
Both women, one black the other white, say they don't believe race was a motivating factor in Martin's killing.
"I don't think black people were being targeted."
"I don't think race played an issue in that."
Questions about social media have been surfacing Wednesday morning. But the women said what they've seen online hasn't swayed them and they claim they need more information before coming to a conclusion about what happened the night Zimmerman shot Martin.
Thus far, Zimmerman's attorneys have been unable to find potential jurors who hadn't heard something about the fatal shooting.
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.
Defense attorneys asked potential jurors if being isolated during the trial would be a hardship, indicating they plan to ask Judge Debra Nelson to sequester the jury.
Jury candidates who move on from the initial round of questioning about their knowledge of the case face other rounds of interviews with the attorneys.
Channel 9 also found on Wednesday that public attendance at the jury selection has been very low.
Court officials said Tuesday’s signup for seats in Wednesday’s proceedings had only six people and even the judge noticed.
“Oh, nobody's here. Those of you who are here, please be seated,” said Nelson.
Court officials said they didn't expect the public side to be very popular during jury selection, but they expect to fill all or most of the 24 seats available during actual arguments.
Follow Kathi Belich on Twitter at @KBelichWFTV for gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial.