Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Jury problem in self-defence trial

George Zimmerman listens to his attorneys in Seminole circuit court during jury selection for his trial, in Sanford, Florida (AP)

Lawyers in the trial of an American man for the fatal shooting of a black teenager are struggling to put together a jury.

They are finding it hard to find people who have not heard something about a case that drew national attention to issues of race and self-defence laws.

George Zimmerman, a Hispanic neighbourhood watch volunteer, is pleading not guilty to a second-degree murder charge that could carry a life sentence. He says he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in his gated community in self-defence in February last year.

A 44-day delay in Zimmerman's arrest led to protests around the United States.

One juror told lawyers that they are going to have a hard time finding jurors who have not heard about the case and can only hope they find residents who can keep an open mind.

"I haven't lived under a rock for the past year," Juror "B-51", a white, female pensioner said. "It's pretty hard for people not to have gotten some information."

By the end of Tuesday, the lawyers had questioned 14 potential jurors in person, and 70 jury candidates had been dismissed after filling out a questionnaire.

Zimmerman is claiming self-defence under Florida's so-called stand-your-ground law, which allows people to invoke self-defence if they feel a fatal shooting is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily harm.

Lawyers need to find six jurors and four alternatives. In Florida, 12 jurors are required only for criminal trials involving capital cases, when the death penalty is being considered.

Jury candidates who move on from the initial round of questioning about their knowledge of the case face other rounds of interviews with the lawyers.

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