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Trayvon Martin murder trial jury to be sequestered: judge

George Zimmerman listens to the proceedings during the fourth day of jury selection in his murder trial for shooting death of unarmed black
George Zimmerman listens to the proceedings during the fourth day of jury selection in his murder trial for shooting death of unarmed black

By Barbara Liston

SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) - The jury in the racially-charged Trayvon Martin case in Florida will be sequestered during the murder trial of the neighborhood watchman who killed the unarmed black teenager, the judge ruled on Thursday.

Seating an impartial jury in the trial of George Zimmerman in a central Florida court may not be as problematic as many had initially feared, despite blanket media coverage that captivated the United States for much of 2012.

The search for potential jurors who claim they know little or nothing at all about the shooting has been moving slowly after jury selection began on Monday in Seminole County criminal court.

But in a sign of progress, some potential jurors said they knew the basic outlines of the case and needed to be prodded by lawyers to recall any specific details.

The judge's order to sequester the jury of six and four alternates means that all ten people eventually chosen will be kept in a private location such as a hotel for the duration of the trial, which is expected to last two to four weeks.

Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson has said the identities of the jurors will not be made public.

No jurors have been selected so far to hear evidence in a case in which Zimmerman claims self-defense in the February 26, 2012 shooting. Zimmerman, a 29-year-old light-skinned Hispanic, faces up to life imprisonment if convicted of the second-degree murder charge.

"The judge is definitely trying to move things along," said David Weinstein, a former state prosecutor now in private practice in Miami with the firm Clarke Silvergate.

Typically, prosecutors and defense lawyers, guided by a judge, select a panel within a day or two although that can drag out in high-profile cases where judges know intense media attention can influence potential jurors.

On Thursday morning, a white recent high school graduate said he surmised a few details from Facebook, such as that a black person was shot and that Zimmerman was the shooter. He said the topic was very controversial among fellow students at school but he recognized many were just making up "facts."

Some 20 prospective jurors have made it through the first round of questioning, focused largely on their exposure and reaction to widespread pre-trial publicity. Ten more are needed before a group of 30 will move on to further questioning about their views on issues related to the case, such as race and gun laws.

The case drew intense scrutiny and ignited protests because police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, saying he acted in self-defense during a confrontation with Martin in a gated community in the central Florida town of Sanford.

Some potential jurors, like a middle-aged woman who works in a hospital operating room, told the court she only catches a few minutes of news in the morning before her commute. She and others described a daily work schedule that left little time for television viewing.

One prospect, referred to in court as B-72, even apologized twice for his professed ignorance about the case.

"I know it sounds bad," he said. "I didn't care about it. It didn't involve me. It didn't involve anyone I know."

A black woman referred to as R-65 claimed to have heard nothing about the case until a prayer was offered for both the Martin and Zimmerman families by her pastor at church.

(Additional reporting and writing by David Adams and Tom Brown; Editing by Grant McCool)

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