SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - The identities of jurors in the trial of former neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman will remain anonymous for an unspecified period after a verdict is handed down in the case, the judge ruled on Monday.
The decision by Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson came after jury selection in the trial resumed for a second week and lawyers continued to try to identify jurors who have heard little about the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Nelson did not say when she will decide the jurors’ names might be made public. Mark O‘Mara, a lawyer for Zimmerman, argued that the names should be kept confidential for six months following the trial.
Martin’s killing on February 26, 2012, ignited protests across the country. Much of the public outcry centered on racial issues because police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, on grounds he killed Martin in self-defense.
Prosecutors say Zimmerman profiled and confronted Martin despite a police dispatcher telling him not to pursue the 17-year-old. Zimmerman, 29, has said the two fought and he shot Martin because he feared for his life.
Lawyers questioned some potential jurors on Monday about the impact of race in the case.
One prospective juror, a white man with a long gray beard and identified only as H27, said he donated $20 to a defense fund set up by Zimmerman after his arrest.
“I think Mr. Zimmerman was trying to do the right thing and things spiraled out of control,” the man said.
Under questioning from prosecutors, the man said the donation would not affect his view should he be chosen as juror.
“Don’t you have a stake in this already?” prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda asked the man.
“I could keep an open mind,” the man responded.
It was not immediately clear whether he would be dismissed or not.
Some 28 prospective jurors have made it through a first round of questioning, focused largely on their exposure and reaction to pre-trial publicity.
Another 12 are needed from which the final panel of six jurors and four alternates will be selected after a second round of questioning this week about their views on issues such as race and gun laws.
As part of stepped-up security at the trial, Zimmerman, who is free on bond, enters and exits the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center through a back door. Sometimes hallways are cleared as he passes by, surrounded by uniformed officers and his own bodyguard.
A heavy police presence is provided by about two dozen uniformed officers who patrol the parking lots, surround an outdoor public gathering space and staff two separate security checkpoints.
Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie, watches behind him in the second row of gallery seating. Martin’s parents and supporters fill a row behind the prosecutor’s table across a center aisle from Shellie Zimmerman’s seat.
Zimmerman’s location when he is not in court is a closely guarded secret. Except for his appearances in court and several TV interviews, he has not been seen in public since his arrest.
Editing by David Adams and Christopher Wilson. Editing by Andre Grenon