REPORTING FROM SANFORD, FLORIDA
Amid a frenzy of media coverage and demonstrators, the trial of George Zimmerman opened on Monday morning with a jury selection process that is expected to take several weeks.
More than 500 residents of Seminole County, where the trial is taking place, are part of the pool of potential jurors to decide whether Zimmerman is guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. In the next few weeks, that will be whittled down to the six who will ultimately serve on the jury in this internationally watched trial.
In the courtroom, along with Zimmerman, who sat stone-faced during the opening of the trial, were Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, the parents of the 17-year-old high school student who was shot and killed here nearly 16 months ago in a gated community.
“We are relieved that the trial is starting today with the selection of jury members,” the parents said in a statement.
“We are seeking justice for our son and a fair trial. Trayvon’s life was taken unnecessarily and tragically. But we call upon the community to be peaceful. We have placed our faith in the justice system and ask the community to do the same. Please pray for Trayvon and for our family.”
Trayvon's parents were accompanied by a number of pastors from Sanford and the Miami church where Fulton is a member.
“We are here to support the family and to pray that justice prevails,” said the Rev. Lowman Oliver, the pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Sanford, speaking with BET.com. "We are here to be with this family and to pray for, and with, this family."
Meanwhile, attorneys for Zimmerman released a video that they say was taken from the dead teenager’s phone. It included a scene of two men fighting, reportedly over an incident involving a bicycle. Zimmerman’s attorneys, who posted the information on a web site, said that the audio includes the voice of Trayvon Martin.
They said that the recording was useful because it was the only known voice sample of Martin and could be useful in identifying his voice on emergency calls on the night of his shooting.
However, the lawyers for Trayvon’s parents said that the recording was not relevant.
Last week, Judge Debra Nelson ruled that that text messages and photos from Martin’s phone and social media accounts could not be used in the opening statements by either side in the trial.
The trial is one that has drawn high emotion in Sanford. Dozens of demonstrators carried signs and chanted outside of the courthouse here in support of the family of the dead teenager.
Robert Zimmerman Jr., the older brother of the man accused of second-degree murder in the death of Martin, said that his family had received death threats in recent weeks.
“We are threatened publicly by various formats, including on Twitter,” Robert Zimmerman said, speaking with BET.com. “We live in a secluded place and nobody knows where we live. We have death threats for being George’s family. We don’t engage with people. This has been surreal.”
He added that the charges against his brother should never have been filed, repeating George Zimmerman’s contention that he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense.
“You don’t charge people with crimes in this country simply to assuage the concerns of the masses,” Robert Zimmerman said. “A political calculation was made that was centered on the politics of race.”
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(Photo: Joe Burbank - Pool/Getty Images)