The trial of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin got underway this week. The defense and the prosecution are currently going through the jury selection process. Lawyers on both sides are grilling potential jurors to try and tease out any potential biases.
But is it even possible for George Zimmerman to get a fair trial at this point?
This question comes up during every high-profile trial. When the national media latches onto a case, only the most ill-informed potential jurors will remain ignorant of the story. Human nature being what it is, most people who hear about a big case will form an opinion about the guilt or innocence of the accused. Such a bias may be very hard for an accused’s attorneys to overcome.
The problem of tainted jury pools—which exists in any high-profile trial—is compounded in the Zimmerman trial by the gross inaccuracies in much of the early reporting on the Trayvon Martin shooting. Not only are most potential jurors already aware of the shooting of Trayvon Martin, but most of them were exposed to false and misleading news reports that painted Zimmerman as a white vigilante racist who targeted Martin solely because he was black. Martin, on the other hand, was portrayed as a normal teenager. The media also focused on Zimmerman’s past brushes with the law, while neglecting to examine Martin’s own history.
We now know the truth is much more complicated than these initial false reports. All the evidence released by both the state and the defense indicates that Zimmerman was viciously attacked by Martin, after Zimmerman told the non-emergency dispatcher that he had lost sight of the teenager. What’s more, Martin had a history of violence and participated in amateur fight clubs, and was serving his third suspension from school when he was shot by Zimmerman.
None of this is to suggest that Zimmerman could not be guilty of second degree murder. It’s entirely possible that Martin only attacked Zimmerman because he feared for his safety. But the initial frenzied coverage may have left some jurors with the impression that Zimmerman is definitely guilty, without a need to consider the evidence.
Zimmerman’s lawyers have their work cut out for them. No matter who ends up sitting on the jury, the attorneys will have to overcome juror bias. It remains to be seen whether the damage caused by the media’s shameful treatment of this case is irrevocable.