SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Attorneys trying to pick a jury in the George Zimmerman trial questioned a white male who recently graduated from high school and a middle-aged white woman, both of whom offered divergent perspectives about the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by the neighborhood watch volunteer.
Attorneys started off Thursday, the fourth day of jury selection, with a pool of 20 potential jurors who they wanted for a second round of questioning. They needed an additional 10 candidates before they could move past the first round of asking questions about what potential jurors knew about the case from news coverage or social media.
Zimmerman, 29, is pleading not guilty to second-degree murder, claiming he shot Martin last year in self-defense.
A 44-day delay in Zimmerman's arrest last year led to protests around the U.S. They questioned whether the Sanford Police Department was seriously investigating the case of Martin, a black teen from the Miami area. Zimmerman, who was a neighborhood watch volunteer in his gated community of Sanford, identifies himself as Hispanic.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys interviewed a recent high school graduate who said classmates at his central Florida high school claimed to be friends with Martin even though Martin was from the Miami area. But the overwhelming opinion of his classmates and friends on social media was that "George was guilty," although he made it clear he had never voiced his opinion.
When asked if he thought race played a role in the case, he said, "For sure."
"It just got people really riled up," he said.
Following him was a middle-aged white woman who appeared to already have made up her mind. Her impression was that Martin's prior use of marijuana and an image of a gun found on his cell phone were indications that "he was going down the wrong path." She also said she believed Zimmerman was just "looking after his neighborhood."
"I believe every American has a right to defend himself," said the woman, known as Juror E-81. "I think the more people armed, the better."
Circuit Judge Debra Nelson has ruled that Martin's past marijuana use, suspension from school and prior fights can't be mentioned at trial during opening arguments.
The first potential witness interviewed Thursday was a white man in his 60s who said he felt the reaction to Martin's death was "blown out of proportion." If Zimmerman and Martin had been the same race, the case wouldn't have gotten the same attention, he said. He described the attention to the shooting as an "overreaction."
Shortly before lunch on Thursday, prosecutors and defense attorneys had interviewed 27 potential jurors over four days.
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