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Opening Statements To Begin In Zimmerman Murder Trial

SANFORD, Fla., (UPI) –  Town hall meetings in Sanford, Fla.’s historically black district will discuss George Zimmerman’s murder trial, which starts with opening statements Monday.

“The community is mainly concerned about a fair and just verdict,” Seminole County NAACP chapter President Turner Clayton Jr., whose civil rights group is hosting the meetings, told United Press International Sunday evening.

The community would consider the verdict fair and just if it was “based on the evidence, not on the jurors’ personal feelings,” he said.

The six sequestered jurors in the racially charged trial are all women — mostly mothers — and all but one are white. The other is Hispanic. The four alternates are two women and two men.

“It would have been better if we had had a more diverse jury,” Clayton told UPI. “But since we don’t, the race shouldn’t matter, as long as we get a fair and just verdict.”

Sanford is a city of 53,500 people 25 miles north of Orlando, where almost 1-in-3 residents is African-American and more than 1-in-5 is Hispanic or Latino, the 2010 U.S. Census indicates.

Zimmerman, a white Hispanic volunteer neighborhood watchman, shot Martin, an unarmed black teen, the night of Feb. 26, 2012.

He is charged with second-degree-murder, but was not arrested for six weeks, setting off protests nationwide.

Zimmerman, who faces up to life in prison if convicted as charged, maintains he acted in self-defense.

Clayton denied to UPI an underlying purpose of the town hall meetings was to ensure Sanford’s black community acted peacefully and responsibly throughout the court proceedings, saying the NAACP wasn’t worried at all about violence.

“We don’t have that concern whatsoever,” he said, adding reports suggesting otherwise were “media hype because that’s how you sell news.”

The first town hall, at an African Methodist Episcopal Church at 7:30 p.m. Monday, will include pastors who attended the trial’s first day. The court has set aside four courtroom seats for clergy.

Also participating will be be representatives of the NAACP, the Central Florida Urban League and Action Now Network, officials said.

Zimmerman and Martin had a violent confrontation in a Sanford gated townhouse complex as Martin was returning to a home where he was staying after buying snacks.

Zimmerman claims he shot Martin with his 9mm semiautomatic gun to protect himself only after the teen attacked him.

Prosecutors from the 4th Judicial Circuit of Florida argue Zimmerman was a reckless vigilante who provoked the fatal confrontation by profiling and pursuing Martin because he was black.

A neighbor made a 911 call during the fatal encounter. In the call recording, screams can be heard coming from a distraught male, whose repeated cries for help end abruptly with a gunshot.

Jurors may hear the recording in court, but they will not hear testimony of two audio experts for the prosecution offering opinions about who the screamer was, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson ruled in an order released Saturday.

One expert concluded the voice was not Zimmerman’s and the other said it was very likely Martin’s.

Nelson ruled the science supporting the experts’ analyses was “not as widely accepted at this time” as the more established methods relied on by defense witnesses who argue it is impossible to conclude whose voice it was.

UPI - United Press International, Inc.

Since 1907, United Press International (UPI) has been a leading provider of critical information to media outlets, businesses, governments and researchers worldwide.

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