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Potential Trayvon Martin case jurors get look at defendant George Zimmerman

Joe Burbank / Orlando Sentinel via AP

George Zimmerman, in court last week for a pretrial hearing.

Potential jurors in the George Zimmerman trial were questioned Monday about what they knew about the death of Trayvon Martin and whether they could keep an open mind about the case.

The first four jurors to be grilled had at least a passing knowledge of the deadly confrontation in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26, 2012, but said they had not immersed themselves in media coverage.

“There was fault on both sides as far as I can see. It was two people being in the wrong place at the wrong time and two people instigating something that probably could have been avoided,” said a male prospective juror, who added that he could still be impartial until the evidence was presented.

Zimmerman, 29, admits he shot Martin, 17, but says it was in self-defense after the teenager attacked him. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

Jury selection continues Tuesday with questioning of more potential jurors.

Lawyers on both sides of George Zimmerman's Florida trial expect picking a jury could take two weeks or longer, as 500 potential jurors have been summoned to court.

Both sides can exercise challenges to have potential jurors excluded. Challenges for cause must have a valid reason attached, such having an intractable opinion about the case. In addition, the prosecution and defense each get six peremptory challenges, in which a juror can be dismissed for no stated reason.

The first day of jury selection began with about 100 potential jurors being introduced to Zimmerman before they filled out questionnaires, which have not been made public. The process is expected to last roughly two weeks.

Those being questioned were referred to only by number. Judge Debra Nelson declined to sequester the jury pool, but hasn’t yet ruled whether the seated jury will be isolated once the trial begins.

Speaking to reporters in an overflow room, Martin’s father said he was relieved the trial was beginning and asked for prayers for his son and family.

“We ask that the community continue to stay peaceful as we place our faith in the justice system,” said the father, Tracy Martin.

Zimmerman’s brother, Robert Zimmerman, told reporters he’s worried about the ability to find a jury that will give the former neighborhood watch volunteer a fair shake, especially since the judge decided against a private selection process. But he said the opportunity for jurors to meet George face to face could help.

“I think it's important that jurors get to know that George is a real person,” said Robert. “He's not just whatever images people flash across the screen or whatever narrative people write about. He's a sensitive person, he's generous. He is very likable if you actually get to meet him and I think it will, it will do, it's the right thing to do.”

George Zimmerman was in the courtroom as the potential jurors were quizzed. His wife, Shellie, also attended the session. She faces perjury charges in a separate case after being arrested last summer for allegedly misrepresenting the couple's financial picture during an April 2012 bond hearing. She has pleaded not guilty.

Additional reporting by Tom Winter and James Novogrod

Editor’s note: George Zimmerman has sued NBCUniversal for defamation. The company has strongly denied his allegations.

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