george_zimmerman_11.jpegSANFORD – One of the most racially charged trials in the nation in the past 18 months opens Monday at the Seminole County Courthouse when jury selection begins in the second degree murder trial of George Zimmerman, a crime watch captain charged with killing Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin on the night of Feb. 26, 2012 in a gated community in Sanford.

Zimmerman is accused of stalking and then fatally shooting Trayvon, who had been visiting his father in Sanford and was returning from a  store with candy and iced tea.

Zimmerman is claiming self-defense, saying that in an altercation, Trayvon attacked him and he was forced to pull his gun and shoot the teen to save his life.

With the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board gearing up to calm tensions in the event of an acquittal, Trayvon’s parents Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, members of the Trayvon Martin Foundation and a cross-section of supporters gathered Saturday for a service at Bethel Apostolic Church in Miami Gardens.

“I say to you, I stand here as a mother, that my heart is hurting but I know…that God will work this out,’’ Fulton said. “I know that the prayers are coming, I know that you are with us.”

Martin said the family is expecting a “rough road” as the trial unfolds. “We’re going to have to sit through all the negativity,” he said at the emotional service.

That “negativity” surged when Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara tried unsuccessfully on May 28 to persuade Judge Debra S. Nelson to admit as evidence material such as Trayvon’s marijuana use, school suspensions and videos related to fighting. O’Mara subsequently backtracked regarding  a cell phone video he attempted to introduce as evidence that allegedly showed Trayvon recording two friends beating a homeless man.

“Presumably, however, you’ll keep your mind open when we present the videos of him at these fights, not just as a spectator, but refereeing one and taping one where two buddies of his were beating up a homeless guy,” O’Mara said to the judge.

O’Mara acknowledged days later that he was wrong and apologized. The defense team said it was an unintentional slip. The video was in fact of two homeless men fighting over a bicycle. Trayvon and a friend happened on the scene and merely recorded it. Trayvon’s attorneys attacked the defense effort to introduce the video as evidence of the teen’s character.

“Let’s not forget the defense team has spent weeks now engaged in a despicable campaign to assassinate the character of a dead teenager in an attempt to influence a potential jury pool,” Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Trayvon’s family, said in a statement, adding, “Trayvon is not on trial, but George Zimmerman is for second degree murder.”

Crump, in a speech at Saturday’s service, quoted from the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and said there was special significance in the trial.

“When we uplift justice for Trayvon Martin, what we are really doing is uplifting America to live up to its true creed, not just letting it be words on a statue, but that everybody in America gets equal justice,’’  he said.