As the jury selections continue for a second week in the George Zimmerman trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin, the pre-trial publicity is front and center in the process. During the first week of the trial, prospective jurors were questioned on their knowledge of the case through their information received in the media. One juror indicated that she did not have cable or Internet. Most others had varying degrees of knowledge of the case and some have preconceived notions about the case through print, online, TV and radio. To date, 29 prospective jurors have passed the first hurdle in the process and will move on to round two. According to the Associated Press, of the 29, 19 are white; six are black; two are Hispanic; one is Asian-American; and one describes himself as mixed race. Judge Debra Nelson wants 40 prospective jurors to continue on to round 2 and to further traditional jury questioning. Ultimately, 6 jurors and 4 alternates will be chosen.
The knowledge that the prospective jurors have gleamed from the pre-trial publicity varies from minimal to substantial. Of interest to note are some points that stand out among the jurors’ answers. The most interesting comments surround whether the killing was “accidental” or a “mistake”, negative remarks about Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the rallies held in Sanford and across the country and issues surrounding Trayvon Martin.
Several themes can be found in some of the potential Zimmerman trial jurors’ comments. The race issue is not sitting well with a number of them. Some do not believe that race is a factor in the case, including white and black jurors. And more distressing is the fact that several potential jurors are referring to the killing as an “accident”. Several jurors are critical of Al Sharpton for raising the race issue, including B-35, a middle age black man and B-61 a young white woman. Juror K-80 a middle age white woman found the racial overtones disturbing and called the killing a “terrible accident” as did P-67. G-14, a middle age white woman, says the race discussion did not need to occur. And B-37 referred to the peaceful rallies as “rioting”. K-95 a middle age white juror also was critical of the protests. And yet without the civil rights protests, there would not have been an investigation to bring charges against Zimmerman.
The pre-trial publicity campaign waged mostly by the Zimmerman defense ratcheted up the emotions that jurors held before the trial began. It is not a coincidence that the Zimmerman defense did not request a change of venue. Seminole County demographics are as good as it gets for the Zimmerman defense.
In viewing the jurors’ comments, it is noteworthy to review the demographics of Seminole County, the county where the town of Sanford, Florida sits and where the jury pool is located. It is through the eyes of those residing in Seminole County that the case will be decided. Seminole County is an area that is made up of over 81% whites and an estimate of a low of 9% to a high 11% blacks with women making up more than 50% of the population according to Seminole County government and the US Census reports. The median income is $62,000 with over 25% of the population having a household income of over $100,000, according to Seminole County reports. The majority of residents are registered Republicans but not by a large margin. The Seminole County demographics are reminiscent of the 1992 Rodney King trial held in Simi Valley located in Ventura County, California, an overwhelmingly white, middle-class suburb and majority Republican county which found the police not guilty of King’s beating.
And it is interesting to note that while some prospective jurors were critical of the effect of the case on their town of Sanford or held negative views towards Al Sharpton and the rallies held to arrest George Zimmerman, none seemed to take issue to any of the negative comments made by the defense about Trayvon Martin’s character—at least not as reported so far. Unfortunately, some prospective jurors accept the defense’s view that race was not a factor and a “terrible accident” occurred. And so, fair and impartial may be in the eyes of the beholder. It is left to be seen if the jurors will be fair and impartial and render a verdict based solely on the evidence or pre-trial publicity.