Jury selection in the Trayvon Martin murder case got off to a prompt start Monday, with Circuit Judge Debra Nelson quickly hearing, then rejecting, a request from defense lawyer Mark O’Mara to delay the trial.
Supporters of Zimmerman and Martin have waged emotionally charged arguments about the deadly encounter here Feb. 26, 2012. The Internet has buzzed with debates about whether Zimmerman was defending himself against an aggressive teen who had begun pummeling him–or whether he had profiled and murdered a black, unarmed 17-year-old.
Shawn Vincent, a spokesman for Zimmerman’s attorneys, said selection of the six-person jury could last one to three weeks and the trial three to four weeks.
George Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie Zimmerman, and Trayvon Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, also attended the proceedings.
“We are relieved that the start of the trial is here with the jury selection as we seek justice for our son Trayvon,” Tracy Martin said. “We also seek a fair and impartial trial. We ask that the community continue to stay peaceful as we place our faith in the justice system. We ask that the community do the same.”
Outside the courthouse, about a dozen people–mostly in support of Trayvon Martin and his family–held signs that read: “We are all Trayvon! The whole damn system is guilty!” and “We say no more!”
Noche Diaz, 24, came to Sanford from Harlem, N.Y. for the first day of trial. “When Trayvon Martin was killed they let George Zimmerman walk free until thousands of people stepped out,” Diaz said. “We need to be part of the process.”
He said acquitting Zimmerman would send a message that vigilantes can kill young men of color and get away with it.
Zimmerman, who has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge, is claiming he shot Martin in self-defense. He remains free on a $1 million bond.
Prosecutors plan to argue that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, profiled Martin, wrongly assumed he was a criminal, disregarded a police dispatcher’s instructions not to follow the teen, confronted the young man, and killed him.
“Both sides are going to have to be careful in juror selection because the race issues in this case are highly charged,” said Randy Reep, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor in Jacksonville, Fla. “If I was the prosecutor in this case, I would be desiring to have black people or other minorities who have had bad experiences based solely on their ‘profileable’ characteristics.”
Those people, Reep said, are more likely to relate and side with Martin. He added that’s a departure from common scenarios because usually defense attorneys want black jurors who they believe are more likely to be distrustful of law enforcement officials.