The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 17, 2013

Jurors share concerns, and opinions, on Trayvon Martin shooting

By Jeff Weiner and Rene Stutzman

SANFORD, Fla. — Seminole County residents poured into the criminal courthouse in Florida last week as potential jurors for the trial of George Zimmerman. By the dozens, most were sent back home.

The first week of jury selection focused on pretrial publicity: what jurors know and how they feel about the Feb. 26, 2012, fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Only 28 jurors survived that test. They will return to court Tuesday. Attorneys will continue questioning on those topics Monday with potential jurors they haven’t gotten to yet.

Though many were dismissed without being called to the courtroom, jurors questioned by attorneys in the case gave frank assessments of the shooting and its aftermath. Their thoughts were varied - and, at times, harsh.

Last week was difficult for Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, who were in court each day sitting through jury selection.

At times, prospective jurors had harsh things to say about their son - and their parenting.

On Tuesday, a middle-aged white woman who works in a middle school and was identified as prospective juror B-86 criticized them as parents. Trayvon had been expelled from school, she said — in reality he’d been suspended 10 days.

If not for that, she said, he would not have been in Sanford instead of at home in Miami Gardens, and there would have been no confrontation with Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

“This could have been prevented,” the woman said.

Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda asked the woman whether she could put that out of her mind if Trayvon’s status at school was not among the pieces of evidence admitted at trial.

“I can’t guarantee anything,” said the woman, who later was among a group of prospective jurors asked to return Tuesday for broader questioning.

Earlier that day, prospective juror B-7, a middle-aged white man who described himself as open-minded, said he’d heard reports that Trayvon was “sort of a thug looking for a fight.” He, too, was asked to come back Tuesday.

Trayvon’s parents did not respond to either of those comments directly. But after the trial ended that day, they appeared before reporters alongside family attorney Benjamin Crump, who read a prepared statement.

“We are inspired by the honesty of the potential jurors. 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.”