SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - Prosecutors and defense lawyers in Florida searched for a third day on Wednesday for potential jurors unaffected by blanket media coverage of last year’s killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Six jurors in Seminole County criminal court will decide the fate of George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer who claims self-defense in the February 26, 2012 shooting death of Martin. So far, jury selection for the trial has been moving at a snail’s pace.
Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder and faces up to life imprisonment if convicted in a case that ignited protests and national debate about race, guns and equal justice before the law.
Zimmerman, a light-skinned Hispanic, walked free without being charged for 44 days after he admitted killing the 17-year-old Martin with a single shot from his 9mm handgun in the town of Sanford in central Florida near Orlando.
Police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman on grounds he acted within the guidelines of Florida’s loosely written self-defense laws during a confrontation, with no eyewitnesses, in a gated community.
A subsequent firestorm of controversy forced the Sanford police chief to step down and the chief prosecutor to remove himself from the case.
Aware of the polarizing issues surrounding the trial, Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson has lined up 500 potential jurors for a preliminary round of questioning.
Of about 100 prospective jurors who were summoned to court on Monday and filled out a questionnaire, 40 were dismissed without being questioned by lawyers, a court spokeswoman said.
She said 30 other potential jurors were sent home on Tuesday. The spokeswoman, Michelle Kennedy, said lawyers would continue questioning prospective jurors individually about pre-trial publicity until they select a group of about 30 people, who will then be questioned about more commonplace jury selection topics.
The judge and lawyers are working to select a panel of six jurors and four alternates in a process that legal experts say could take about two weeks.
Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Grant McCool