SANFORD, Fla. - The judge in the George Zimmerman murder trial ruled Monday that jurors' identities will be kept secret for now, and she'll decide later when their names can be made public.
As jury selection continued, Florida Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson heard arguments on whether prosecutors will be permitted to present voice identification witness testimony about whose voice is heard screaming on an audio tape moments before Trayvon Martin was shot through the heart last year.
She scheduled more arguments Wednesday on the voice identification issue.
Zimmerman, who is charged with murdering Trayvon, 17, sat quietly through the long day of court proceedings without saying much. He has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge saying he killed the teenager in self-defense, after following him at the apartment complex where Trayvon was visiting. Prosecutors argue that Zimmerman profiled and confronted the teen.
Defense attorneys asked Nelson to keep jurors' names from being released until six months after the trial ends. After a jury found Casey Anthony not guilty, their names weren't released until after a three-month cooling-off period.
Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara said six months is "a sufficient amount of time for any community passions to cool, should an acquittal occur, or for the matter to begin its appellate process, should an acquittal not occur."
He said six months would give jurors long enough to prepare for their names to be released, and he cited concerns from potential jurors who said they were worried about their anonymity and safety.
"This will allow sufficient time for the jurors to move on with their lives, and to plan for any residual concerns, should they exist," O'Mara said.
Scott Ponce, an attorney representing several news media companies, argued against the defense motion and asked that the parties come back a week after the verdict to determine how long to keep juror identities secret.
Nelson said that the names would remain secret for now and she would decide later when to release them.
As of Monday afternoon, 49 people had been questioned by lawyers about their exposure to media accounts of the Feb. 26, 2012 shooting. For more than a week, prosecutors and defense attorneys have grilled potential jurors about how much they know about the case, which news outlets they prefer, and whether they can give Zimmerman a fair trial.
Lawyers also asked whether they can handle being sequestered and have dismissed those who say obligations or views keep them from being able to serve.
One woman, a single mother with two children younger than 14, said she couldn't handle being a juror because of her obligations as a parent. Another man said he gave $20 to Zimmerman's legal defense fund. "I was pro-Zimmerman," the man said. "You're entitled to self defense." Both were dismissed.
This phase of questioning is called "pre-publicity voir dire." General voir dire will include questions about what the potential jurors think about the case. Thirty-two people have made it to the pool for general questioning. However, eight more are needed for that phase to begin.
O'Mara says he hopes to have a jury of six people seated by Friday.
Nelson was also hearing arguments to determine whether testimony from prosecutors' voice identification experts are reliable enough to be admissible.
One of the most important prosecution witnesses may be Alan Reich, a voice identification expert who says Trayvon is heard screaming and saying the word "stop" in the background of a 911 call placed by a resident the night of the shooting. The screaming stops abruptly when a gunshot is heard.
An FBI official called by the defense said the recording was too short and didn't meet the standards needed to be evaluated. Another defense expert said you can't identify a voice that is screaming no matter how long the recording.
James Wayman, a defense forensic voice expert, testified that the 911 call should not be evaluated because there isn't sufficient material to assess who is heard screaming.
Wayman said Reich's report was baffling, and methods used by another prosecution expert, Tom Owen, have never been used to evaluate recordings like the 911 call.
"A lot of this appears to be like magic," said Wayman. "I was baffled."
Wayman added that if the methods used by prosecution experts were correct they would be "breathtakingly new and novel" and would be worthy of an award similar to the Nobel Peace Prize. He said he doubted, however, that such a breakthrough had occurred and said instead that prosecution experts were reflecting predispositions to hear words and voices in the recording.
After more than four hours of testimony by Wayman, the hearing was to continue Wednesday at 4 p.m. State prosecutors plan to call Owen to rebut Wayman's claims about his work.
Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY