It's been more than a year since Trayvon Martin's death and the case is finally going to trial. Selection for the six-person jury begins on Monday with court watchers saying the trial should last from 4-8 weeks.
"They're going to have a tough time picking a jury. At this point who doesn't know who Trayvon Martin is and who George Zimmerman is," said David Weinstein, a former state prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer.
Zimmerman, a 29-year-old former neighborhood watch volunteer, faces up to life in prison if convicted as charged of second-degree murder.
More than 200 journalists have signed up to cover the trial and a tight blanket of security will be enforced by federal, state and local police in and around the courthouse in this town near Orlando in central Florida.
Even spectators in barricaded "public assembly zones" on the courthouse lawn will be subject to search. Four seats inside the courtroom will be rotated among local pastors who will monitor the trial and be ready to help calm any racial tensions.
The trial is being heralded as either a defining moment in the annals of civil rights, or an anti-climactic resolution of another senseless killing in gun-happy Florida.
Heh. I suppose we don't have to guess where the Reuters reporter's sympathies lie. There are a few more things that this trial is being "heralded" as -- notably, a test of "stand your ground" doctrine of self defense, and also whether racialists can intimidate the jury into convicting someone based not on the facts, but on a political agenda.
Sanford police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman who claimed self-defense, saying they had no choice in light of Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, which allows anyone in fear for their life to shoot rather than retreat. But many saw the lack of an arrest as a symbol of second-class treatment of black victims in the criminal justice system.
Zimmerman was arrested only after a national outcry from both ordinary citizens and the nation's top civil rights leaders, and the appointment of a special prosecutor to take over from local law enforcement when it lost credibility. Almost 2.3 million people signed an online Change.org petition - still the largest petition in the organization's history - demanding "Justice for Trayvon Martin."
As the trial opens, Martin family lawyer Ben Crump said many are still waiting to see whether the family receives equal justice.
"I honestly think this is a civil rights/equal justice issue because everybody in the world is watching to see if everybody in America gets equal justice," Crump said. "This family has wanted to have their day in court. They wanted to not have their son's death be in vain. They pray continuously that the justice system does not fail them."
Others believe the injustice was cured once an arrest was made, and that now, regardless of the ultimate verdict, justice is being served.
Before the trial even starts, the Martin family attorney is making it crystal clear that nothing less than a conviction will "prove" equal justice. And soon, we will probably be treated to statements from black leaders warning of race riots if Zimmerman is found not guilty.
This is called "intimidation" and "railroading." Le's hope the jury can resist it and come to a considered verdict.