Judge announces George Zimmerman jury will be sequestered

By Tony Pipitone, Investigative Reporter, tpipitone@clickorlando.com
Published On: Jun 13 2013 07:30:15 AM EDT
Updated On: Jun 14 2013 07:20:00 AM EDT

Judge Debra S. Nelson says that the jury in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial will be sequestered and that the jury pool must have 40 prospective jurors that pass the pre-publicity qualification before they are questioned further.

SANFORD, Fla. -

Judge Debra S. Nelson has announced on Thursday that the jury in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial will be sequestered and that the jury pool must have 40 prospective jurors that pass the pre-publicity qualification before they are questioned further.

In the middle of questioning a prospective juror who was concerned about being sequestered for 4-6 weeks, Nelson said that the jury would be sequestered, meaning they would be isolated from the public at an undisclosed location.

"They anticipate this trial will last between two and four weeks," Nelson said. "Based upon that approximate stipulation, I will be sequestering the jury."

Nelson also said the neighborhood watchman's trial would last 2-4 weeks.  It was the first time Nelson has weighed in on whether jurors will be sequestered.

On Thursday, Nelson also said she agreed to the attorneys' request for a pool of 40 prospective jurors who have undergone pre-publicity qualification before they begin regular voire dire examination.

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After three days of trying to seat a jury in the Zimmerman murder trial, prosecutors and attorneys have interviewed at least 30 potential jurors in the last four days but several have been dismissed, leaving them at around 27 potential jurors. They need 40 potential jurors to get past the initial round of interviews so they can ask them more in-depth questions about their views and life experiences. Six jurors and four alternates are needed for the trial.

On Thursday, attorneys were focused on asking potential jurors what media stories they have been exposed to about the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin during an altercation in a Sanford gated community in February of last year.

Ten jurors were questioned on Thursday so far. At least three were dismissed--a Hispanic woman, Hispanic man and white man-- for a hardship, for not setting aside his feelings about Zimmerman's guilt and for not being able to understand English well. Another juror questioned on a previous day was dismissed on Thursday over financial hardship. A 5th juror was also dismissed, but it's not clear who that juror was.

The juror concerns on Thursday ranged from trivial, like one juror who said being sequestered would "mess up his golf game" to critical for a middle-aged mom, who said it would throw a "big hitch."

Other jurors had big opinions on the case, like one juror, a Hispanic man who has trouble understanding English said he only reads the Bible and thinks Zimmerman is guilty.

"I believe in God's law, the 10 commandments, and God's law says don't kill," he said, and was quickly escorted out.

Just before the lunch recess, a white middle-aged woman who is adamant in her opinion that Zimmerman is innocent and says that prosecutors would have to work really hard to change her mind.

"Unless something is shown to me that erases all doubt from my mind, my mind is made up," the juror said, adding that she was worried for her safety.

"I feel like I'm going to walk out of here with a bullseye on my back," she said.

The juror had strong opinions about guns, saying "the more people armed the better." She also had strong opinions on Martin, saying that Martin was learning to be a street fighter and saw pictures of him refereeing a fight.

"If a boy is smoking pot, interested in guns, learning to fight ... he's going down the wrong path," the juror said, adding that Martin was "looking for a reason to fight."

Another juror, a young white male who just graduated high school, said his schoolmates would talk about the case and teachers would shut down the conversations because they would get heated.

He said most of his friends think Zimmerman racially profiled Martin.

"I personally do not find there's a racial component to the case," he said. " I feel as though other people did."

The first juror questioned on Thursday was a white man in his late-50s who said he felt sorry for Martin's family. He also said he lost a child himself but that wouldn't affect his ability to serve on a jury.

The juror, who called himself a "West Virginia boy," said he also felt the public overreacted to the shooting.

"If it had been a white person and a white person it might not have been, or if it had been a black person and a black person, it may not have been quite as blown out of proportion," he said.

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Attorneys also questioned jurors about the potential emotional or financial hardship they would experience by being on a jury for 4 to 6 weeks. Jurors receive $15 for first three days if unemployed or employer doesn't pay and $30 for 4th day and after. If employer pays, no payment for first 3 days, then $30 for fourth day and after, according to the Florida Statutes.

Four potential jurors were dismissed Wednesday, raising the total of jury candidates who've been disqualified to 75. Among the jurors dismissed was 55-year-old unemployed painter and guitar player Jerry Counelis after defense attorneys found a 2012 Facebook post about the case on "The Coffee Party Progressive" Facebook page.

[PICS: Zimmerman jury selection | VIDEO:  Day 4 update]

Zimmerman was in court on Thursday, wearing a blue sport coat, dress shirt and tie. Zimmerman was asked by Nelson if he agreed with his attorneys' decisions on dismissing and agreeing to dismiss potential jurors, to which he answered yes. His wife, Shellie, was also in court without her security guard after his cellphone went off in court on Wednesday.

Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Martin.  He has pleaded not guilty, claiming self-defense.

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