US & Canada

George Zimmerman trial: Jury selection begins

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionTensions are high in Florida as the trial opens, says the BBC's Mark Mardell

Jury selection has begun in the murder trial of a US neighbourhood watchman who killed an unarmed black teenager in a case that divided the US.

George Zimmerman, 29, says he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defence in Sanford, Florida, in February 2012.

Prosecutors say Mr Zimmerman, who is accused of second-degree murder, racially profiled the teenager, who was on his way home after buying sweets.

The case fuelled debate about race, as police took 44 days to make an arrest.

Under a controversial Florida law, known as "stand your ground", a person may use deadly force if they feel seriously in danger.

But Mr Zimmerman's defence team earlier decided not to invoke a "stand your ground" hearing, in which a judge alone would have decided whether to dismiss the case or allow it to proceed to trial.

Non-sequestered jury

On Monday, the judge turned down a request to delay the trial from defence lawyers, who said they were not ready.

The Martin family issued a statement saying they were relieved the trial was finally underway.

"As we seek justice for our son Trayvon, we also seek a fair and impartial trial," Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father, said in the statement.

"We ask that the community continue to stay peaceful as we place our faith in the justice system."

Police in the Orlando suburb had anticipated a large turn-out of protesters supporting either the Martin family or Zimmerman, but crowds largely stayed away on the first day of the trial.

Legal experts said it could take several weeks to pick the six members of the jury. A pool of 100 potential jurors was given a questionnaire on Monday and then summoned one by one into the courtroom for individual questioning.

Given the exhaustive media coverage of the trial, the judge said the names of the jurors would be withheld, but they did not need to be sequestered.

Conflicting accounts

Neither prosecutors nor defence lawyers dispute that Mr Zimmerman shot Martin with a 9mm handgun, firing a bullet into the teenager's chest during the confrontation on a rainy night in February 2012.

Image caption Travyon Martin's parents in the courtroom

It is understood that Martin was walking from a corner shop to the house of his father's fiancee when Mr Zimmerman spotted him.

Mr Zimmerman, a resident of the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community, was a self-appointed neighbourhood watchman who had a concealed weapons permit.

The volunteer watchman rang the police when he saw Martin, who had his hood up while walking in the rain.

The defendant got out of his car and followed the teenager. Minutes later, a confrontation ensued.

Mr Zimmerman has told police he lost sight of the teenager and was attacked as he went back to his car.

But prosecutors say it was the defendant who started the argument.

According to Mr Zimmerman, the teenager punched him in the nose and repeatedly hit his head against the pavement.

The accused said Martin tried to reach for his gun, but the watchman grabbed it first and fired. Martin died at the scene.

Image caption George Zimmerman has been free on a $1m bail bond and living in seclusion

There have been conflicting reports from witnesses about how the fight unfolded.

Cries for help can be heard in the background of recorded calls to police, but it is not clear whose voice it is.

Analysts say the testimony of voice experts could play an important role in the trial.

In the weeks leading up to the start of the trial, Mr Zimmerman's defence lawyers released some of Martin's text messages and social media posts.

But a judge said details about Martin's cannabis use, school suspension and fights could not be used in opening statements.

More on this story