All-women jury chosen for George Zimmerman's trial

    2:06 PM, Jun 20, 2013   |    comments
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    SANFORD, Fla. (USAToday.com) – After nine days of questioning, a jury has been chosen for the trial of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin.

    The jury of six women will decide whether Zimmerman, 29, is guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, 17, in a case that captured the nation's attention last year.

    Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, said as the jury was settled, "This is probably as critical if not more critical than the evidence."

    Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. The neighborhood watch volunteer says he killed the teen in self-defense after being attacked. Prosecutors say Zimmerman confronted Martin because he was African American.

    After jury selection, Nelson reconvened a hearing on on whether voice experts will be allowed to testify about who was heard during a neighbor's 911 call screaming for help that night.

    In an unusually involved process, an initial group of 211 people filled out juror questionnaires, which were then read by lawyers and Circuit Judge Debra Nelson. They chose who would make it to the next round for individual questioning in open court.

    Only after questioning 58 people about their exposure to coverage of the case did lawyers narrow the group to 40 people for traditional juror questioning.

    O'Mara and Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda both said they wanted to make sure someone who had already rached a conclusion about Zimmerman's guilt or innocence would not make the cut. Such a "stealth juror," they said, would hurt both sides.

    "It's devastating to the case to have a juror who has an agenda," O'Mara said. Such a rogue juror, he said, would cause people would lose faith in the system.

    Thursday, O'Mara questioned the remaining 40 potential jurors about what they thought of Florida's stand-your-ground law, claiming self-defense and taking the law into your own hands.

    O'Mara told the prospective jurors that they could not make a decision out of sympathy and would have to be comfortable finding Zimmerman not guilty despite the loss to Trayvon's family.

    Wednesday, de la Rionda spent nearly six hours questioning more than a dozen jurors about several topics, including whether it is right to judge people based on their clothing and race and whether people should take the law into their own hands.

    "We are here to seek justice," de la Rionda said to the group. "This is your opportunity to live the Constitution."

    Laying a foundation for his arguments, de la RIonda told potential jurors that circumstantial evidence is just as good as direct evidence and that experts sometimes disagree.

    Legal experts have said that the racial makeup of the jury would be a key factor for both sides. Five of the six women are white. They also said people's views on law enforcement, self-defense and the use of firearms would be important.

    "With the jury being all woman, the defense may have a difficult time having the jurors truly understand their defense, that George Zimmerman was truly in fear for his life," said Florida criminal defense attorney Elizabeth Parker, a former prosecutor. "Woman are gentler than men by nature and don't have the instinct to confront trouble head-on."

    She added that woman are more emotional than men and that could benefit the prosecution.

    She said, "Trayvon Martin's mother and father will be sitting in the courtroom, and these jurors will see them every day, knowing that their son was shot and killed, knowing that the decision rests in their hands."

    The four alternate jurors are two white women, one white man and one Hispanic man.

    Last week, Judge Nelson ruled that the jurors will be sequestered, housed as a group away from their families and friends. They will have limited contact with loved ones and limited access to the Internet. They will not be allowed to discuss the case with family members or friends or on the Internet.

    "While a large population of the country might watch this trial, the final six jurors' opinion of the case are the only ones that matter," said Randy Reep, a defense attorney based in Jacksonville. "It would be impossible to overstate how critical the jurors are to the trial."

    Shawn Vincent, a spokesman for O'Mara, said opening arguments are likely to be heard Monday.

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