* Case has aroused huge public interest
* Jury selection likely to be long process
* Zimmerman says he acted in self-defense
By Barbara Liston
SANFORD, Fla., June 9 (Reuters) - Jury selection begins on Monday in the murder trial of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012 and then famously walked free for 44 days, triggering nationwide protests and calls for his arrest.
Lawyers estimate the long-awaited trial will last four to eight weeks. Much of that time is expected to be spent picking a six-person jury that can be open-minded despite extensive publicity about some of the explosive issues, including racial profiling and self-defense, surrounding the case.
"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.
Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, was the self-appointed neighborhood watch captain in a gated community of Sanford at the time of the killing on Feb. 26, 2012. Martin, 17, was a student at a Miami-area high school and a guest of one of the homeowners.
He was walking back to the residence after buying a bag of Skittles candy and a can of iced tea from a nearby convenience store when he died with a bullet in his chest during a struggle with Zimmerman.
Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda says Martin would be alive today but for the fact that Zimmerman, who profiled him as "a real suspicious guy," disregarded a police dispatcher's advice against pursuing Martin and wound up fatally confronting him.
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.
"What this community wanted was for George Zimmerman to be arrested, the police chief to be fired and the state attorney to be gone. And all of this has been done," said Francis Oliver, one of Sanford's long-time civil rights leaders.
"We called it a victory when we got the arrest. But the call was for justice. I don't think we want someone to go to jail if we don't have the evidence," said Derek Turner, spokesman for the NAACP.
Prominent Orlando defense lawyer Mark Nejame suggests viewing the case through separate moral and legal lenses.
"Morally, I think it never should have happened," Nejame said. "I think that George Zimmerman was somewhat of a zealot in his effort to protect and serve and he should never have been following anybody when he was carrying a gun."
Legally, the case would depend on what the jurors believe happened in the struggle in the moments before the killing, he said.
Key points to watch as the trial unfolds will include testimony from a young woman, known as Witness 8, who was talking to Martin by cell phone in the last minutes of his life.
She has already gone on record describing Martin as scared and trying to get away from Zimmerman, as he pursued him. She has also said she last heard Martin say, "Why are you following me," after which she heard what sounded like Martin falling. Then the phone shut off. (Additional reporting by David Adams. Editing by Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker)
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The Martin Story Becomes National News
New York's Daily Intelligencer blog details how the Trayvon Martin story, which hadn't received a lot of attention, <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2012/03/trayvon-martin-shooting-now-a-national-news-story.html">landed on the radars of the national media.</a> A good deal of the national attention and outrage over the case was centered around the fact that Zimmerman claimed that he shot Martin in self-defense, a category with broad meaning because of Florida's Stand Your Ground Law, and was not arrested or charged with a crime for more than a month after Martin's death.
Seminole County State Attorney Convenes Grand Jury
Seminole County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger announces that he will be convening a grand jury to determine if Zimmerman should be charged in Martin's death. In a statement, Wolfinger said that he would be "utilizing the investigative resources" of the Seminole County grand jury which he said would be called to session on April 10. "I share in the desire of the family and the community to accurately collect and evaluate all the facts surrounding the tragic death of Trayvon Martin," Wolfinger said. "I respectfully request that the public remain patient as this process continues forward ... As I have previously stated, the public is entitled to no less than a thorough, deliberate, and just review of the facts. We intend to honor that commitment." Lawyers for the Martin family anticipated that the state attorney would call a grand jury, saying that the move is little more than "passing the buck."
Police Chief Under Fire
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/trayvon-martin-case-george-zimmerman-bill-lee_n_1371635.html?1332389437">Sanford's city commission gave a vote of “no confidence” to beleaguered police Chief Bill Lee Jr.</a>, who was under fire for his department’s investigation into the shooting.
Police Chief 'Temporarily' Steps Down
In a brief press conference, Chief Bill Lee announced that he would be "temporarily" steppng down from his position, saying that his role in the case had become a "distraction."
State Attorney Steps Down
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/trayvon-martin-state-attorney_n_1374206.html">Seminole County State Attorney Norman Wolfinger steps down</a> due to "conflict of interest."
President Obama Speaks Out
President Obama <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/23/obama-trayvon-martin_n_1375083.html?ref=trayvon-martin">issues his first public statement</a> about the case.
Police Video Shows Zimmerman Night Of Shooting
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/28/trayvon-martin-police-video_n_1386764.html">Newly released video of George Zimmerman</a> at the Sanford Police Department the night he shot Trayvon Martin to death show the neighborhood watch volunteer without blood on his clothing or bruises on his face or head.
George Zimmerman Launches FundraIsing Website
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/travon-martin-george-zimmerman_n_1412693.html?utm_hp_ref=trayvon-martin">Zimmerman launches an official fundraising site</a> to help pay his legal fees.
George Zimmerman Charged With Second-Degree Murder
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/george-zimmerman-trayvon-martin-charged-second-degree-murder_n_1417198.html">Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey announced</a> that George Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder.
Judge Grants Zimmerman Bail
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/george-zimmerman-bail-hearing_n_1440175.html?ref=black-voices">Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester set Zimmerman's bond at $150,000</a>
New Photograph Shows George Zimmerman's Bloodied Head
A new photograph released by ABC News shows a bloodied George Zimmerman with injuries on the back of his head. The photo, which was reportedly taken three minutes after Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, could serve as possible evidence supporting the neighborhood watch volunteer's claim of his violent confrontation with the teen.
Zimmerman Bond Revoked
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/george-zimmermans-bond-re_n_1563304.html">A Florida judge revoked bond for George Zimmerman</a>, and ordered that he turn himself in within 48 hours. Prosecutors had asked Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. to revoke Zimmerman's bond because they contend that he was disingenuous at an earlier bond hearing when Zimmerman's family and attorney claimed that he was cash broke. The motion filed by prosecutors claimed that Zimmerman "misrepresented, mislead [sic] and deceived the court."
Shellie Zimmerman Arrested
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/12/shellie-zimmerman-arrested-george-zimmerman-wife_n_1591153.html?utm_hp_ref=trayvon-martin">George Zimmerman's wife Shellie, was arrested</a> and charged with one count of perjury, according to law enforcement officials.
George Zimmerman Released From Jail
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/06/george-zimmerman-released_n_1654831.html">George Zimmerman left a Florida jail</a> after posting a $1 million bond that a judge set for him Thursday, Bay News 9 reports. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester, who revoked Zimmerman's bond in June for misleading the court about how much money he had, said he set the bail significantly higher to circumvent the possibility of Zimmerman using hidden funds to flee the country.
Judge Ordered To Step Down
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/29/george-zimmerman-judge-lester_n_1841293.html">Florida's Fifth District Court of Appeal rules that Judge Kenneth Lester should enter a motion to disqualify himself</a> in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder case. Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara asked the court earlier this month to overturn a previous ruling by Lester not to leave the case.
Trial Date Set
George Zimmerman's murder trial for the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/17/george-zimmerman-trial-date-set-june-10-2013_n_1973469.html">set for June 10, 2013</a>
Zimmerman Must Remain In County On 24-Hour GPS Monitor Until Trial
George Zimmerman ordered remain under 24-hour GPS monitoring while awaiting trial in the fatal shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and must stay in the county despite the defense's concerns about his safety.
George Zimmerman Denied Delay Of Trayvon Martin Trial
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/05/george-zimmerman-denied-trayvon-martin-trial_n_2623282.html?utm_hp_ref=trayvon-martin">A Florida judge rejected a bid by George Zimmerman to delay his June trial</a> for the murder of unarmed, black teenager Trayvon Martin, whom he shot and killed a year ago. Zimmerman is expected to appear in court for an April hearing where his lawyers plan to argue that he should be immune from prosecution in the case because of Florida's Stand Your Ground Law. The National Rifle Association (NRA) heavily lobbied Florida legislators to pass the law in 2005 and encouraged lawmakers not to change it after Martin's death.