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In Zimmerman jury selection, notoriety of case is key concern

The dilemma confronting lawyers trying to pick a jury in the George Zimmerman trial was summed up neatly by a member of the pool on the second day of the selection process.

“Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, it’s been pretty hard for people not to have gotten a lot of information,” the woman said after being quizzed on what she knew about Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin and their deadly Feb. 2012 confrontation.

Defense lawyer Don West agreed.

“You’ve shown remarkable insight into our very problem,” he said.

The prosecution and defense need to find six jurors, plus alternates, who say they can hear evidence with an open mind despite what they may have heard about the neighborhood watch volunteer or the unarmed 17-year-old he says he shot in self-defense. Zimmerman, 29, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

On the third day of jury selection in a Florida courthouse, Martin’s family praised those who had been summoned for the trial.

“We are inspired by the honesty of the potential jurors,” they said in a statement. “Their answers have been forthright and we have faith that the justice system and the members of the public who are selected for the jury will perform their civic duty in a fair and impartial manner.”

During the questioning, potential jurors have revealed a range of familiarity with a case that dominated headlines, sparked protests and stirred debate about race and guns.

A college student who said she doesn’t watch television news or read a newspaper gleaned her knowledge of Zimmerman and Martin mainly through friends’ Facebook status updates. Her takeaway: “An African American was wearing a hoodie or something like that."

A mother of three told defense lawyers she first heard of the case when her pastor led the congregation in prayers for Martin and Zimmerman and had not heard much about it since because she doesn’t have cable TV or Internet service.

Others had found it impossible to avoid discussion of the case.

A former financial services worker estimated she had seen 200 news reports, including headlines about a preliminary hearing on technical analysis of 911 calls last week. She called the shooting “a very unfortunate incident” and said she used it to talk to her sons about the dangers of going out at night.

A mother of two college-age boys recalled that her sons had discussed the case and “made fun of the fact of the Skittles” -- a reference to the bag of candy Martin bought at a convenience store before he crossed paths with Zimmerman.

Many of the jurors said that regardless of their exposure to the details, they could keep an open mind.

A woman who lives near the Sanford, Fla., housing complex where Martin was shot said friends had invited her to protests and a majority of them were sympathetic to the prosecution’s version of events.

Nevertheless, she had no doubt she could be impartial until deliberations began.

"You can't speculate without having a trial," she said.

Some were more opinionated, like a man who told the court he had not made up his mind but went on to say that “murder is murder.”

“Even in self-defense, it’s still murder,” he said.

He was dismissed for cause.

The first three days of jury selection have been focused on potential jurors’ pre-trial publicity awareness. Once the defense and prosecutors have a group of 30 who have not been dismissed for cause, they will begin a new round of questioning.

Each side has 10 peremptory challenges they can exercise to boot a juror without giving a reason. The process is expected to last through next week.

Editor’s Note: Zimmerman has sued NBCUniversal for defamation in civil court, and the company has strongly denied his allegations.

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