A jury of six women – five white, one Hispanic, nearly all mothers – has been picked for the trial of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who shot and killed unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin in a 2012 incident that sparked allegations of racism.
In an unusual move, a jury of six women was selected on Thursday for the trial of George Zimmerman, the Florida neighbourhood watchman who shot and killed an unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin, in an incident that incited racial tensions.
Zimmerman, 29, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder charges in the February 26, 2012, shooting, alleging he shot 17-year-old Martin in self-defence after the teen wrestled him to the ground, punched him in the face, and started slamming his head into the concrete sidewalk.
The initial decision by Florida investigators not to press charges in the case sparked outrage, with Martin’s supporters and sympathisers calling the decision racist and emphasising the fact that Martin was not carrying any weapon and had no criminal record.
The Trayvon Martin shooting also sparked debate over Florida’s much-criticised “Stand Your Ground” law, which authorises the use of firearms in self-defence even when it is possible to flee.
The jury, assembled over the course of nine days during which 500 potential candidates were eliminated after questioning by state and defence attorneys, will be composed of five white women and one Hispanic woman.
Nearly all of the jurors are mothers (the Hispanic juror has eight children), and one has said she used to carry a concealed-weapons permit.
The aim of the intensive jury selection process is to ensure that no juror has any strong prejudice or preconceived notion that could affect his or her assessment of the case.
Absence of black jurors could be controversial
Only 11% of the population of Seminole County (near Orlando, in central Florida), where the trial is to take place, is African-American, so the fact that none of the jurors is black is not entirely surprising. Still, if Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, is acquitted, allegations of racial bias are likely to resurface.
On the other hand, some legal experts say female jurors, especially those with children, are more sympathetic to young victims – something that could benefit the prosecution. Female jurors may also be less receptive to the notion of armed self-defence, commentators have said, though older jury members could identify with the need to protect oneself from danger.
Zimmerman, who was a volunteer watchman in the gated community in Sanford, Florida, where the shooting took place, called the police when he saw Martin walking in the rain in a hooded sweatshirt.
The 911 operator told Zimmerman not to follow Martin, who, it was later revealed, was on his way to the home of his father’s girlfriend after stopping to buy a few items at a convenience store.
Zimmerman, the son of an American father and a Peruvian mother, has maintained that there was no racial motivation to the killing, saying he shot Martin because he feared for his life.
The neighbourhood had seen a rise in robberies in the weeks leading up to the shooting.
Several 911 calls were made by nearby residents who offered varying accounts of the incident as it unfolded. On the recording of one of the calls, screams can be heard in the background before the sound of a gunshot, though experts have differed on whether the screams were Martin’s or Zimmerman’s.
Jurors will be sequestered as of Monday, when opening arguments are given, and the trial is expected to last anywhere from two to six weeks.
If found guilty of second-degree murder, Zimmerman could potentially face a life sentence.
In a statement, the Martin family’s lawyers said they expected a fair jury.
“With the makeup of this jury, the question of whether every American can get equal justice regardless of who serves on their jury panel will be answered,” the statement read. “Equal justice under the law is not a black value or a white value.”
Date created : 2013-06-21