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Zimmerman Trial Gets Underway Monday

6:38 AM, Jun 24, 2013   |    comments
George Zimmerman, accused in the Trayvon Martin shooting, arrives in Seminole circuit court, June 7, 2013 in Sanford, Florida. (Photo by Joe Burbank-Pool/Getty Images)
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Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY

SANFORD, Fla.-- The jury deciding George Zimmerman's fate will hear two starkly different stories Monday as lawyers make opening statements in the closely watched case.

During two weeks of jury selection, prosecutors and defense attorneys have hinted at their trial tactics, saying Zimmerman either profiled and murdered Trayvon Martin or shot the teen in self-defense. Now, both sides will try to convince a jury of six women and four alternates to believe their version of what happened Feb. 26, 2012.

"A really good opening is a really good story," said Jules Epstein, a Widener University law professor who directs an institute to teach students how to argue cases effectively. "The prosecutor has to show that Zimmerman was way over the top -- confrontational and provocative. The defense wants to talk about fear, the injuries to George Zimmerman's head and how quickly things can spiral out of control."

Epstein added that an opening sets the tone and perspective of a trial. In doing so, the prosecution is likely to focus on Trayvon, 17, being a young, unarmed man killed in his prime. Defense attorneys will most likely quickly concede that Zimmerman, 29, shot Trayvon and then try to make jurors relate to Zimmerman's viewpoint the night of the shooting.

"We're all neighbors, and when we see something that looks out of place in our neighborhood, it's OK to walk over and see what's going on," Epstein said they may argue.

Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. The former neighborhood watch volunteer says he shot Trayvon in self-defense after being attacked. Prosecutors say Zimmerman acted "imminently dangerous" and demonstrated a "depraved mind without regard for human life" -- Florida's definition of second-degree murder.

STORY: Judge rules jury won't hear state voice experts

MORE: Who are the six jurors?

A 911 call that recorded screaming and the gunshot will be a key part of the trial. However, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson ruled Saturday that prosecution experts who said the voice screaming was Trayvon's will not be allowed to testify. Witnesses familiar with the voices of Zimmerman and Trayvon can testify to whom they believe is screaming, the judge ruled. That means Trayvon's and Zimmerman's families may testify.

"It's a very significant piece of evidence," said Mark O'Mara, an attorney for Zimmerman. "What we need to do is play it and let the jury make a decision."

The list of potential witnesses numbers 200, including a young woman, "witness eight," who says she was on the phone with Trayvon right before he was killed.

The jury is likely to hear Zimmerman's call to police in which he says Trayvon looked suspicious, that Zimmerman is following him for a moment and later that police should call Zimmerman when they arrive.

Photos of Zimmerman's injuries, including a bloody nose and several cuts to his head, will most likely be seen along with pictures of Trayvon's body, killed by a single shot to his chest.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have foreshadowed what they will argue happened on the dark, rainy night that Zimmerman and Trayvon met.

"The facts are that he was told not to follow anyone," Assistant State Attorney John Guy said in court last week.

Later Guy said the state may talk about race and the ways people can be profiled, including race, age, dress and even being somewhere at a certain time or place. Five of the six jurors are white.

Zimmerman has maintained that he acted within Florida's self-defense law and protected himself from Trayvon who pummeled him.

"George said within a minute after the shooting, 'I was screaming for help and nobody came,'" O'Mara said. "There is no evidence to contest that."

The jurors:

B29. She is a young woman who recently moved with her husband and eight children to Central Florida from Chicago. The juror, who has has been married for 10 years, once worked as a certified nursing assistant. She learned of the shooting in the news and first assumed Trayvon was 12 or 13 based on photos. A lot of people in her family took "the child's side," but she didn't form an opinion, she said. She said that when she lived in Chicago, there were reports of many shootings, so she didn't pay special attention to Trayvon's death. She likes watching Bravo, episodes of the Real Housewives series, and is still adjusting to a calmer life in Florida.

B76. The middle-age woman has lived in Seminole County since 1995. She has two children, one of whom is an attorney. She's heard about the case only three or four times, she said. She thought Zimmerman was a security guard. During questioning about her exposure to news reports, she turned toward Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, and asked, "Is that his mom?" Prosecutors tried to get her dismissed for that moment. B76 said it's natural to be sympathetic but that shouldn't affect deliberations. A pet lover, she manages rental properties.

B37. The middle-age woman is the daughter of an Air Force captain and has been married to a space attorney for 20 years. She has two children, 24 and 27, and works in a management position. She told lawyers she knew several names in the case but has not kept up with it. "Newspapers are usually in the parrot's cage," she said. She told O'Mara she had a problem with what kinds of guns people can own, that someone obtaining a concealed-weapons permit doesn't mean they will act responsibly and that more training is needed for concealed permit holders. She has three dogs, four cats and "a couple of lizards" and has been called to jury duty four times before this case.

B51. She is an older woman who has lived in Seminole County for nine years. She retired from a job in real estate five years ago, has no children and often visits her elderly parents and siblings in north Florida. She told lawyers she thought Zimmerman may have done something wrong because he was arrested. She said she heard hat the police investigation may not have been carried out properly.

E6. The middle-age woman is married and has two children, 11 and 13. After the shooting, she talked about "appearance" and "safety" with her kids. She got emotional when talking about being a victim of domestic violence. One of the most talkative people during the group questioning, she often spoke up when lawyers questioned potential jurors. She asked how jurors would deal with "paranoid" and "anxious" people who claim self-defense. Prosecutors tried at least twice to get her stricken from the jury for recognizing four names on the potential witness list. E6 is a churchgoer who used to volunteer at a school and likes gardening and babysitting.

E40. The middle-age woman moved to Seminole County in November from Iowa and worked around the country as a safety officer. She is married to a chemical engineer, has a 28-year-old son and does not have a Facebook account. She remembered little about the shooting, summing up her knowledge for lawyers as, "I recall the phrase 'gated community,' 'teenager' -- that's about it." She likes to travel, read and watch sports, especially football.


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