George Zimmerman Jury Selection: Jurors' Race May Be Focus

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George Zimmerman Jury Selection to Begin

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George Zimmerman Jury Selection to Begin

Beginning this morning, some 500 potential jurors will be grilled about their positions on race, guns, and the media as prosecutors and George Zimmerman's defense attorneys work to whittle the mass of jurors down to the six and four alternates who could decide Zimmerman's fate.

But it's the demographic look of the six jurors and four alternates that ultimately may be more important than their views, legal experts say.

If the Zimmerman legal team can pack the Seminole County, Fla., jury with white, conservative, pro-conviction jurors, they could beat the 2nd degree murder charge, says Jose Baez, who successfully defended Casey Anthony in 2011.

Catch Up on the George Zimmerman Case

"Each side will try to stack the deck in their favor," said Baez. "It's going to be an issue of what type of jurors will sit in the judgment of George Zimmerman. "What political backgrounds do they come from? What are their views on racism? What are their views on gun control? All of these important modern issues that we're facing ... and that's what jury selection will be about in this case."

The defense's case hinges on convincing a jury that the 17-year-old black Florida teenager attacked the white, Hispanic former neighborhood watch captain so viciously, he feared for his life, and used deadly force to defend himself.

Lead Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O'Mara, despite advising his client to forego a pre-trial immunity "Stand Your Ground" hearing, has repeated numerous times that this is "not about civil rights but is a self-defense case."

The controversial Stand Your Ground law allows an individual to justifiably use force in self defense, without having to retreat, if they believe they are being unlawfully threatened. Experts speculate one reason his legal team decided to take Zimmerman's fate out of Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson's hands and leave the decision up to a Seminole County jury is because they believe the county demographics favor them.

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The majority white, Republican-leaning Florida county has been simmering with racial tension from this case that Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump calls the "civil rights case of the new century" for nearly 16 months. But there is also a substantial African-American community in the county, and local court observers say the jury pool should be diverse.

"It became a civil rights matter the night the Sanford Police made a decision not to arrest the killer of an unarmed teenager," Crump told ABC News. "It doesn't matter if he's black, white, brown or red. You cannot have people killing unarmed teenagers and allowed to go home and sleep in their bed at night. Had Trayvon Martin shot an unarmed George Zimmerman, he would have been arrested day one, hour one, moment one. He could have said stand your ground, he could have said self-defense, he could have said whatever he wanted to say, he was going to be arrested that night."

Crump's assertion is echoed by many in the African-American community. Prosecutors are expected to try to load the jury with people who would be sympathetic to Trayvon Martin, particularly African-Americans according to Baez.

The case has stirred fierce passions on both sides.

Within days of Martin's death a petition calling for Zimmerman's arrest was posted. Within 10 days the petition had more than 200,000 signatures, growing at times at a rate of 10,000 signatures an hour. It soon became the fastest growing petition in internet history.

But Zimmerman's cause, that he was unjustly arrested has already channeled support to his legal fund which has raised nearly $400,000 from supporters both local and nationwide since his arrest.

Late Sunday, a few protestors returned to the courthouse where jury selection will begin. The tension never left here. For months, Zimmerman has appeared in court wearing a bullet proof vest for fear of his life.

Sybrina Fulton, Martin's mother, tells ABC News her family has also been the target of death threats.

"We have an issue with security," Fulton said. "We have decided that we would not wear bullet proof vests. Are we taking a chance with our lives? Yes, we certainly are, but we're putting our faith in God."

She plans to watch the trial in person.

Amidst this atmosphere, the process to find 10 unbiased jurors begins.Nelson ruled earlier that potential jurors will not be sequestered meaning they will be allowed to go home at night and that their names will be kept confidential. In court they will be referred to only by jury number.

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