SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Nearly two dozen potential jurors interviewed individually by prosecutors and George Zimmerman's defense attorneys during the past week were told Friday to return to a Florida courthouse next week for further questioning.
Judge Debra Nelson told the 23 jury candidates on the fifth day of jury selection to return next Tuesday. She asked them not to discuss the case or selection process with anyone.
Of the candidates, 16 are white; four are black; two are Hispanic; and one is Asian-American. The racial and ethnic makeup of potential jurors is relevant because prosecutors claim Zimmerman profiled 17-year-old Trayvon Martin when he followed him through his gated community shortly before the unarmed teen was fatally shot. The case prompted public outrage, as some critics believed authorities initially didn't investigate the case thoroughly because Martin was a black teen from the Miami area.
Race-related questions came up regularly during jury candidate interviews on Friday.
During questioning of a potential juror Friday, defense attorney Mark O'Mara specifically asked a man in his 20s who identified as mixed race what his racial background was. The man said German, Filipino, Chinese and Spanish.
Later in the day, a middle-aged black man who works in a school described his family and friends' reaction to Martin's death as "typical," given a history of violence against African-American men in the U.S.
The group of 23 jury candidates who were asked to return also skewed overwhelmingly female and middle-aged.
A potential juror who wasn't asked to return was given a trespass warning and ordered not to come back to the courthouse until after the trial. The dismissed juror, a middle-aged white man who described himself as a musician and painter, expressed concern about losing his privacy and complained about the jury process outside the jury assembly room. He pointed to the jury assembly room and said "Do they know what they're in for?" according to a report from the Seminole County Sheriff's Office.
During his questioning on Thursday, the judge had asked him if he had made a Facebook posting about the case. He answered yes and was told he could leave the courtroom a short time later.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys want to build a pool of 40 potential jurors who have been screened for any influence of pretrial publicity before they move to a second round of questioning. Attorneys had interviewed 41 potential jurors over five days by midafternoon on Friday.
At least 75 potential jurors already have been dismissed.
Zimmerman, a 29-year-old former neighborhood watch volunteer, is pleading not guilty to second-degree murder, claiming he shot Martin in self-defense.
A 44-day delay in Zimmerman's arrest led to protests around the nation. Some questioned whether the Sanford Police Department was investigating the case seriously since Martin was a black teen from the Miami area. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.
Attorneys need to find six jurors and four alternates. In Florida, 12 jurors are required only for criminal trials involving capital cases, when the death penalty is being considered.
The judge said Thursday that jurors picked to serve will be sequestered during the two weeks to a month that the trial will last. They will have limited contact with their families, they will spend the night at a hotel and their actions will be monitored by court security outside the courtroom during the duration of the trial.
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