(The Root) — Meet the jury of George Zimmerman’s peers: no men and just one person who shares his Latino ethnicity.
After nine days of painstaking screenings from a jury pool of 500, six women have been seated to hear the second-degree murder trial against Zimmerman, the neighborhood-watch volunteer who fatally shot unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., last year. Zimmerman, 29, has pleaded not guilty and claims he fired in self-defense.
Opening arguments are scheduled for Monday morning. The jurors and four alternates will be sequestered during the trial, which is expected to last as long as four weeks. The judge still must decide whether to admit the testimony of state experts about a 911 recording, a critical piece of evidence that captured the sounds of screams followed by the fatal gunshot.
For such a racially charged case, the selection of a nearly all-white jury is certain to provoke rich debate. The altercation arose after Zimmerman, who is half-white and half-Hispanic, spotted the African-American teen in his gated community and decided the boy looked “like he’s up to no good.”
Five of the jurors are white, and one is Hispanic. Multiple black potential jurors were questioned, and they all said they hadn’t formed an opinion about Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence. But it’s no wonder that they didn’t make the cut — most told the court that a majority of their relatives and friends believes Zimmerman is guilty.
The last black person struck from the jury came at the request of defense attorney Mark O’Mara, who said the woman failed to disclose that the church where she works had publicly expressed support for Trayvon and his family. He said the church’s pastor wrote an op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel that was “very pro-Trayvon Martin” and preached a sermon to the same effect.
“It is a very inflamed view of the evidence,” O’Mara told the judge. “The concern that I have is [the potential juror] … has not been straightforward” about “the influence that she was under.”
The lack of racial and ethnic diversity on the jury poses challenges for both sides. But the greater difficulty may lie with the prosecution, which will try to convince jurors to see a young black male as the victim of profiling by a vigilante. (The judge has banned the prosecution from saying “racial profiling.”)
The absence of male jurors could have a greater bearing. The all-female jury is “unique in a case like this,” Florida defense attorney and former prosecutor Elizabeth Parker told The Root. “If I was a defense lawyer, I’d be really concerned right now.”