Sixteen months ago, a Miami teenager carrying a cell phone, a pack of Skittles, and a soft drink was shot to death in his father's Central Florida town by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman. The case soon erupted into a referral on race -- because the victim, Trayvon Martin, was black and the shooter, George Zimmerman is white and Hispanic -- and Florida's self-defense laws.
This morning, Zimmerman's trial on second-degree murder finally kicks off in Sanford with jury selection. We've run down some key questions in the case.
1. Who yells "Help!" in the 911 call?
The biggest question in the entire trial -- an issue that the defense and prosecution will each spend weeks arguing -- is whether Zimmerman or Martin was the aggressor in the struggle that ended in gunfire. Zimmerman claims the teenager attacked him and beat his head against the ground until he had to shoot in self-defense; prosecutors say Zimmerman followed the teen and then wrestled him before killing him.
The strongest piece of evidence for either side could be a 911 call made while the men were struggling. In the background, someone yells "Help!" or "Help me!" a total of 14 times. Was it Martin or Zimmerman? Experts have already weighed in for both sides, and the judge has yet to rule whether she'll allow voice experts to testify on the matter during the case.
2. Whose credibility will survive?
In a murder case with no smoking-gun witnesses, the credibility of everyone else involved will be a big selling point for jurors who must decide whom they believe. And both Zimmerman and the prosecution's star witness -- Martin's girlfriend, who was on the phone with Trayvon during the incident -- have taken hits in the media already.
Zimmerman and his wife lied to a judge about how much money they'd raised for his defense and about the fact that he owned a second passport, which landed him back in jail and eventually got his bond upped to $1 million. Martin's girlfriend, who hasn't been named in the media, has been accused of lying about being in the hospital the day of Martin's funeral to explain why she didn't attend.
3. What will happen in Sanford?
Sanford, Florida, is a town of 53,000 about 25 miles outside Orlando. The Travyon Martin case is far and away the biggest thing ever to happen there. In the initial flurry around the case, throngs of protesters of every stripe, major leaders such as Jesse Jackson, and even a roving pack of neo-Nazis stormed the village.
What will happen now that the trial is actually beginning? "Everyone is on pins and needles waiting to see what happens," Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith told USA Today this morning.
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4. Just how much money will the court-TV shows make off this trial?
OK, this one isn't much of a mystery. The answer is: Shitloads. HLN paid its rent for the year with nonstop coverage of another Orlando murder case -- the Casey Anthony trial -- and they're already gearing up for another case-a-palooza with Zimmerman's trial. Between 200 and 300 reporters are expected at the courthouse, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
"Audiences love to attend trials. They're watching them... they're reading about them on the beach," HLN head Scot Safon tells the Tampa Bay Times. "We expect to see elevated audiences."