There is a total pool of 500 Seminole County residents to be questioned and vetted to select six jurors and four alternates, a painstaking process that may take much of the week. The judge presiding over the murder trial of Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who claims he shot the unarmed 17-year-old Travyon Martin in self-defense, has ordered they each be identified only by a number.
Her ruling is but one indication of the intense scrutiny that has been visited upon this city and its residents. Sixteen months after the killing, the area remains unsettled by the discord that erupted here last year and spread throughout the country — and is hopeful that civility prevails during the four- to six-week trial and beyond the eventual verdict.
“There’s kind of a little nervous energy,” says Mayor Jeff Triplett. “I equate it to having butterflies in your stomach. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Everyone’s saying the right message of ‘let the court system work.’ ”
Sunday, on the eve of jury selection, the trial was a magnet for commentary outside The Alley, a blues bar in Sanford’s brick-paved downtown.
“I hate that people are trying to turn it into something it’s not,” says Belle Sanford, who works at a spay-and-neuter clinic and grew up in Sanford (and demurs when asked about her last name). “People are afraid there will be riots. . . . I feel very safe in my town, and I love my town.”
“It’s not racist down here, but you’ve got ignorant people,” adds a longtime Sanford resident named Robert, who declined to give his last name. Zimmerman “deserves some kind of manslaughter [conviction]. He was running around with his gun. . . . If he hadn’t shot Trayvon, he would’ve shot someone else.”
Jerry Breeden, who moved from Tennessee to nearby DeLand last year, views the media and racial bias as major problems. He wonders why there wasn’t national attention on the recent retrial of the African American men who carjacked, tortured, raped and killed a young white couple in Knoxville six years ago.
“If that couple had been a young black couple and it had been hoodlum whites who did that — they would’ve burned Knoxville down,” says Breeden, who retired from the Tennessee Valley Authority.
When the trial starts later this week or next, the jury will be instructed to weigh only the evidence. Race, however, remains an uncertain force on the scales of justice.