In Depth: Can George Zimmerman Trial get a Fair Jury?

By Kelli Cook | Anchor/Reporter
Posted May 07, 2013

ORLANDO -- With just a little more than a month before George Zimmerman is scheduled to stand trial for second-degree murder for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, we sat down with our legal analyst, Mark NeJame, for an In Depth look at the upcoming trial.

KELLI COOK: It was a big deal when the defense waived [Zimmerman's] right to a "Stand Your Ground" hearing. Let's bring people up to speed, because it was a little confusing by what that meant. Why would they do this, and do you think it was a good idea?

NEJAME: I think it was a strategic move, and I think it was a good idea. I think the reality of it is that this case has evolved into a good, old-fashioned self-defense case.

As the facts have been coming out and as the matter has unfolded, I think that the defense probably presumed that they were not going to prevail in that, and if they did, they would have to put George Zimmerman on the stand. It was the only way they could even have a hope, and that is if they had George Zimmerman on the stand. And that would be a prosecutor's dream, to have a defendant on the stand three weeks before trial.

And so, I think they simply opined that it was best to integrate or incorporate a "Stand Your Ground" hearing into the trial, itself. Then, that way, they could avoid the hearing and then still have a judge make a ruling at the conclusion of the trial.

KC: In your opinion, at some point, George Zimmerman's got to take the stand, correct?

NEJAME: One would think so. This is going to be a hard case without it. But if the forensics bare it out, remember, there are certain things we've not really seen yet.

We don't know what the experts are going to say, or if there are any new opinions that have come out as it relates to the enhancement of the 911 tape, where you hear someone crying, "Help me! Help me!" I've always believed, whoever's voice that is, the other person was the aggressor. The other person was the more dominate person, simply because there was someone on the ground saying, "Help me! Help me!"

If it was, in fact, George Zimmerman, I think he has a better chance of an acquittal. If it turns out that it was Trayvon Martin, I think there is a much better chance for the prosecution to have a conviction.

KC: All right, we're getting down to the nitty gritty. Jury notices went out to over 500 Seminole County residents. Can they pick a fair jury in Seminole County?

NEJAME: Well, we've never had a case in American history where we've not been able to pick a jury. That doesn't mean we've always picked fair juries. So, we hope that is what is going to happen. And it's becoming much harder in this age of technology, blogs and the Internet. Of course, so many more people know about what's going on.

The issue is not whether they've heard or know anything about the case, but whether they can render a fair and impartial verdict. And I think they'll be able to find that, eventually. There's a lot of people that just shut off their TVs, don't have TVs, don't want anything to do with any crime stories. So, there are going to be some people out there. The interesting spin on that, though, is what kind of person it is that, in fact, goes on a jury. You presume that [it would be] none of our watchers right now, because they would be people who are watching regularly and following the news. So, what kind of person is it that would go on a jury, who really knows nothing about the case? Now, again, they can know something about it, but have they formed an opinion that they won't move off of?

And what's so unique about this particular case is it's so polarized. You hear people so strongly on one side or the other, and not a lot of people in the middle. The key is going to be to find some of those people in the middle who have not formed opinions in such a strong fashion, that they are unwilling or unable to render a fair and impartial verdict.

KC: George Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, is thinking it is possible. He said that jury selection could take weeks. At one point, the entire trial was supposed to last two to three weeks, but just picking a jury could take that long. Do you think it will take that long to pick a jury?

NEJAME: The best estimate is two to three weeks to pick a jury and three weeks or so for the trial. Could be more, could be less, but I think four to six weeks is a reasonable estimate as far as what this case is going to take, from beginning to end. This is a judge who moves this along. If you've watched her in the proceedings, Judge [Debra] Nelson moves at a pretty rapid clip. I think she's going to streamline it as much as possible without waiving one side or the other's rights, but she's going to try to keep this thing moving.

And they might get lucky. They might be able to find a pool of jurors who can render that fair and impartial verdict. But I think you're going to find a judge who is not going to tolerate a lot of languishing and letting it slow itself down. So, you know, there's a chance it could be a week or two. But three weeks is not unreasonable, as much attention as this case has gotten, and as much inquiry needs to be made to determine whether there are prejudiced jurors. Remember, a lot of times, in this age, there are "stealth jurors," people who want to be on the jury for one reason or another. They want to get a conviction or they want to get on TV, or they want to get an acquittal, because they feel so strongly. It's important for the lawyers and the judge to fair out those people, so they get a really unbiased jury.