The sequestration of the jury that ultimately acquitted George Zimmerman cost Florida taxpayers about $33,000 and allowed jurors creature comforts such as dinner at Outback Steakhouse, a bowling excursion and a trip to the Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum.
The Seminole County sheriff's office said in a statement that during the sequestration, "Jurors had individual rooms and convened regularly in a suite for meals and to socialize."
The all-female jury of six was sequestered beginning on Friday, June 21, and spent 22 nights at the Marriott in Lake Mary, Fla.
"Jurors watched television and movies, exercised at the hotel fitness center, and spent weekends being visited by family and friends," the sheriff's statement said, noting that jurors could also request visits from members of the religious community. Anyone visiting members of the jury were asked to sign an agreement indicating they would not discuss the case with the jury member.
Most breakfasts and dinners were provided through the hotel. Jurors dined out a couple of times: at Outback Steakhouse in Sanford and at Amigo's in Altamonte Springs. Dinner was also brought in from Giovanni's in Lake Mary. Lunches typically took place at the courthouse with lunch brought in from area restaurants. The group went out for lunch twice, both times to Senior Tequila's in Winter Springs.
"Jurors also enjoyed several evening and weekend excursions to include bowling, shopping at the Volusia Mall, a day and dinner in St. Augustine (to include a visit to the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum), manicures and pedicures, and watching fireworks on the fourth of July," the sheriff's office reported. "Jurors also went to the movies to see "World War Z" and "The Lone Ranger. All movies viewed were preapproved by the court."
Lawyers and legal experts said that although some of the expenses — such as pedicures — might initially seem luxurious, the cost and the amenities provided were not unreasonable.
"It certainly seems reasonable to me that a woman would desire a bit of personal grooming over 22 days," said Randy Reep, a Florida attorney. "Going to the movies and having basic levels of entertainment — I cannot see Ripley's to be extravagant — seems very reasonable over three weeks."
Reep added, "These women of course are not criminals, yet we took them from their families. While we did not say this then, now it is clear, half of the country is going to very vocally find fault with your dedicated effort. A Bloomin Onion at Outback would not adequately reimburse these women for the bitterness" some will level at them for their jury service.
Elizabeth Parker, a Florida criminal defense attorney and former assistant state prosecutor, said the $33,000 total cost sounds fair.
"When a jury is sequestered for a significant amount of time, like in this case, a judge has to be mindful of how their isolation from the outside world could affect them and could potentially affect their ability to be fair and impartial," Parker said.
"Allowing the woman to get manicures and pedicures or enjoying other activities is important to the mental well-being of these jurors who are in a very stressful situation. Imagine four weeks of being confined to a courtroom all day and a hotel room at night and on the weekend, without any freedom or independence."
Robert Hirschhorn, a jury consultant who was instrumental in helping George Zimmerman's defense team pick an all-female jury, said $33,000 in sequestration fees seemed low to him. The cost was a "small price to pay for the enormity of the task the jurors undertook," Hirschhorn said.
"They left their husbands, their children, their friends, their jobs, they were essentially 'imprisoned' for three weeks," he said of the jurors. "They could not watch what they wanted on TV, listen to the radio, read what they want in the newspaper or surf the Web."
With no court on weekends or holidays, jurors needed things to do, he added.
"Almost every sequestered jury gets some type of field trip to pass the time and distract them from the enormity of the task before them," Hirschhorn said.
Jurors were permitted to go to appointments for personal care if accompanied by deputies.
"All television, internet use, reading materials, mail, and phone calls were screened, monitored and logged by deputies to ensure jurors were not exposed to any trial information, or content related to the criminal justice system," the sheriff's office said. "Jurors were permitted to receive their cellphones once per day to check voice mails and make telephone calls in the presence of a deputy."
Jurors paid for their own personal purchases and appointment costs. The sheriff's office paid for the movie and bowling excursions and the Ripley's admission. Although exact costs are not yet available, the hotel cost was approximately $1,000 daily, and meals were approximately $375 per day. The excursion expenses were approximately $350.
"In total, sequestrations costs were approximately $33,000," the sheriff's office said.
The sheriff's office is still compiling the agency's total costs associated with the trial. Preliminary figures indicate the sheriff's office spent approximately $320,000 on overtime, equipment, and other trial-related expenses.