Yamiche Alcindor 8:40 p.m. EDT July 17, 2013
SANFORD, Fla. -- One of the people instrumental in helping George Zimmerman's defense team pick an all-women jury says that he decided months in advance that a female panel brought the best chance for acquittal.
Robert Hirschhorn, a jury consultant with more than 28 years experience, told USA TODAY that women are better listeners, less judgmental, and would more easily understand the fear Zimmerman felt when he shot Trayvon Martin.
"I wanted to make sure we were going to get jurors that would follow what the court of law required not what the court of public opinion wanted," Hirschhorn said. "My number one goal was to get fair jurors that would really be able to listen to the evidence and decide the case on facts and law not emotion."
Hirschhorn's instincts paid off Saturday when a jury of five white women and one Hispanic woman acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the Feb. 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Hirschhorn got involved in the Zimmerman case in April when Zimmerman defense attorney Don West brought him in. Hirschhorn, who is based in Lewisville, Texas, has worked on several high profile cases including the trial of Enron founder Kenneth Lay, who was convicted of fraud and conspiracy as well as New York millionaire Robert Durst, acquitted of killing and dismembering his elderly neighbor. ...
In doing so, he decided women would be more favorable in getting Zimmerman acquitted and that people with anti-gun stances would have to be eliminated.
... A beginning group of 211 people filled out juror questionnaires, which were then read by lawyers and Circuit Judge Debra Nelson. They chose who would make it to the next round for individual questioning about media exposure to news of the shooting in open court. Later, lawyers went down the list, striking jurors individually. At least six people were dismissed during this phase.
... In Zimmerman's case, Hirschhorn did two rare things: Hirschhorn didn't recommend lawyers ask for a change of venue and he didn't have Zimmerman's lawyers use all their strikes against jurors.
"Sanford was the epicenter for this event," Hirschhorn said, explaining what he told lawyers."If we want George to get a fair trial, we want people from his county to decide this case."
Early on, Hirschhorn thought women would relate to Zimmerman's story better than men and would understand the position Zimmerman found himself in the night of the shooting.
"I believed in my heart that an all-female jury was the right jury for George," Hirschhorn said. "My experience has been that women are better at listening than men."
The thinking behind his theory was that women would be less judgmental in a self-defense case where lawyers would be asking them to put themselves in the position Zimmerman found himself when he killed Trayvon.
Hirschhorn also knew he would need to eliminate potential jurors who held anti-gun views and who were not completely honest with their knowledge of the case and the opinions they had formed.
"In the typical high profile case, jurors have typically formed an opinion against your client," he said, adding that Zimmerman's case was different. "There was a large segment of the community that was against George.There was a large segment of the community that hadn't formed an opinion that George was guilty. The challenge for me was to find those people that can be fair to George."
It was also Hirschhorn's job to find out which potential jurors were not being completely honest. That thinking led to the elimination of at least three jurors. Zimmerman defense attorney, Mark O'Mara told Circuit Judge Debra Nelson one older black woman failed to tell the court about a leader of her church being a Trayvon supporter and a younger black woman failed to disclose that she was Facebook friends with a potential witness. The defense also eliminated at least one juror --a white man--who said he had issues with guns.
I did a little bit of work once for Houston trial legend Racehorse Haynes, writing up digests of his notes for a projected autobiography. During jury selection in the 1960s, he always noted if a juror had too many mechanical pencils in his his shirt pocket for his occupation: e.g., an auto mechanic with six different pencils in his pocket protector was trying to give the impression he was an engineer. Racehorse felt they were phonies and he didn't want them on his jury.
Was this scientific? Beats me, but Racehorse gave me a ride in his Turbo Porsche, 0 to 90 mph to 0 in about six blocks, one of the first Turbo Porsches in Houston in the 1970s, so he won a lot of trials.
By the way, has anybody seen any good analytical writing about casting movies and TV shows? Most of what I've seen focuses on pairings of leads like Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy. But I'm more interested in casting with large sample sizes of datapoints, such as witnesses on Law & Order, where they want actors who more or less look like what the public expects the character to look like. Anybody seen anything good on that?