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By David Adams
MIAMI, June 24 (Reuters) - When the Trayvon Martin murder case goes to trial on Monday in Sanford, Florida, the jury will enter a world of almost total seclusion, separated from their friends and families, as well as laptops and smart phones.
“They are treated like prisoners,” said Richard Gabriel, 53, a trial consultant and president of Los Angeles-based Decision Analysis who worked on the 1995 trial of disgraced former NFL star O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted in a double-murder case, and Casey Anthony, who was acquitted of killing her daughter in 2011.
The six jurors, backed by four alternates, will decide whether former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, 29, should face up to life in prison for killing Martin in a case that sparked a national debate about self-defense, guns and equal justice.
Sequestration happens quite infrequently in trials and only in extraordinary cases that have received intense media coverage. “It seeks to create a more pristine environment for the justice system to proceed,” Gabriel said.
“The whole purpose is to isolate you from the world,” said Miami lawyer David Weinstein, a former state prosecutor. “They put you in a bubble - complete internet isolation.”
Historically, sequestration was used to prevent juries from being influenced by family and friends, said Weinstein, but now is used to insulate them from the omnipresent modern media.
The Zimmerman jurors, cloaked in anonymity and referred to only by numbers in court, will be kept in a hotel, from which they will be transported to and from the court.
Television channels in their hotel rooms will be limited to restrict access to news about the trial, including late-night comedy.
During the Anthony trial, when jurors were sequestered in Orlando for six weeks, members of the panel were limited to taped movies and ate meals together.
Family contacts, including conjugal visits, are usually restricted to weekends. Internet access is limited to essential online bill payments.
In the Zimmerman trial the jury will spend the duration of the trial - an estimated two to four weeks - under the constant watch of the local sheriff’s office.
A court spokeswoman said it will not discuss sequestration issues until after the trial is over, with one exception. “I will clear up one frequently asked question,” said Michelle Kennedy, the court services administrator. “Jurors will not be required to share rooms with their fellow jurors.”
The six members of the jury are all women, as are two of the four alternates.
“It can be both a uniting and a dividing experience. Some juries do a very good job and get on very well,” Gabriel said.
The internal dynamics of sequestered juries can be complicated during long trials, such as the Simpson case, which lasted more than eight months.
“There’s an internal pressure cooker,” Gabriel said. “It depends on whether they get along. Some juries form factions.”
The isolation can be so complete that juries are often surprised by the public reaction after it is over.
“The Casey Anthony jury were shocked when they heard how angry people were with the verdict,” Gabriel said. “They felt they were following the law.” (Editing by Tom Brown and Bill Trott)