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UPDATE | Zimmerman setback: Jurors can consider lesser manslaughter charge

Published: Thu, July 11, 2013 @ 10:04 p.m.


In an unmistakable setback for George Zimmerman, the jury at the neighborhood watch captain's second-degree murder trial was given the option Thursday of convicting him on the lesser charge of manslaughter in the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Judge Debra Nelson issued her ruling over the objections of Zimmerman's lawyers shortly before a prosecutor delivered a closing argument in which he portrayed the defendant as an aspiring police officer who assumed Martin was up to no good and took the law into his own hands.

"A teenager is dead. He is dead through no fault of his own," prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda told the jurors. "He is dead because a man made assumptions. ... Unfortunately because his assumptions were wrong, Trayvon Benjamin Martin no longer walks this Earth."

Because of the judge's ruling, the six jurors will have three options when they start deliberations as early as Friday: guilty of second-degree murder, guilty of manslaughter and not guilty.

Zimmerman attorney Don West had argued an all-or-nothing strategy, saying the only charge that should be put before the jury is second-degree murder.

"The state has charged him with second-degree murder. They should be required to prove it," West said. "If they had wanted to charge him with manslaughter ... they could do that."

To win a second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors must prove Zimmerman showed ill will, hatred or spite - a burden the defense has argued the state failed to meet. To get a manslaughter conviction, prosecutors must show only that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification.

Allowing the jurors to consider manslaughter could give those who aren't convinced the shooting amounted to murder a way to hold Zimmerman responsible for the death of the unarmed teen, said David Hill, an Orlando defense attorney with no connection to the case.

"From the jury's point of view, if they don't like the second-degree murder - and I can see why they don't like it - he doesn't want to give them any options to convict on lesser charges," Hill said of the defense attorney.

Because of the way Florida law imposes longer sentences for crimes committed with a gun, manslaughter could end up carrying a penalty as heavy as the one for second-degree murder: life in prison.

It is standard for prosecutors in Florida murder cases to ask that the jury be allowed to consider lesser charges that were not actually brought against the defendant. And it is not unusual for judges to grant such requests.

Prosecutor Richard Mantei also asked that the jury be allowed to consider third-degree murder, on the premise that Zimmerman committed child abuse when he shot the underage Martin. Zimmerman's lawyer called that "bizarre" and "outrageous," and the judge sided with the defense.

Zimmerman, 29, got into a scuffle with Martin after spotting the teen while driving through his gated townhouse complex on a rainy night in February 2012. Zimmerman has claimed he fired in self-defense after Martin sucker-punched him and began slamming his head into the pavement. Prosecutors have disputed his account and portrayed him as the aggressor.

During closing arguments, de la Rionda argued that Zimmerman showed ill will and hatred when he whispered profanities to a police dispatcher over his cellphone while following Martin through the neighborhood. He said Zimmerman "profiled" the teenager as a criminal.

"He assumed Trayvon Martin was a criminal," de la Rionda said. "That is why we are here."


1kurtw(1716 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

Whatever happens in this case, I hope it sends out the message that civilians shouldn't be out there playing "wannabee cop"- especially if they carry a weapon.

Zimmerman was told by the 911 dispatcher not to pursue, he couldn't restrain himself and as a result of his poor judgment a 17 year old unarmed teenager is dead. He should be charged with something- not murder- but a lesser charge to send a message to all the would-be Rambo's out there to back off, sit on your hands and let the Police do their jobs.

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2janeyblue(227 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

Quite judgmental kurt. Since you must have been there to know all the facts why were you not called as a witness for the prosecution ?

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3NoBS(2698 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

Sharpton and the other racists win again - the judge realized that Zimmerman did nothing that amounted to the requirements for Murder 2, so the judge is trying to make sure Zimmerman is accused of something. With a "guilty" verdict, there won't be riots (like with Rodney King) in the streets.

This is a huge travesty of justice.

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4kurtw(1716 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

Let's face it- everything we do in life is "judgmental" in some way. If I'm sitting at an intersection waiting for traffic to clear so I won't be creamed if I pull out- that's being "judgmental" (making a decision based on the evidence at hand) and the stakes are big because if I make a mistake- I could end up dead.

So, when I hear someone criticize something I have said or done as being "judgmental" I want to say: "So, the only way to avoid being called "judgmental" is to say or do nothing at all."

My point was that Z should have listened to the Professionals- the 911 Dispatcher who said- "Don't follow- we will send someone." He didn't- he played amateur cop and look what happened? An unarmed 17 year old is dead and he faces serious jail time. If he had just waited- the issue would have been resolved- the Police (trained Professionals) would have arrived, they would have established Trayvon's identity and that would have been the end of it- No dead Teenager and no amateur Cop facing incarceration.

Everybody has the right to a rich fantasy life, as long as they don't get carried away with it. I've always wanted to be an "Axe Man"- cut down big trees with a 26 inch chain saw. But, if I tried it I would probably cut myself in half or get crushed by a falling log. Apparently, Z's fantasy was to be an armed Policeman- he got carried away and tragedy- for Trayvon Martin and, also, himself- was the result.

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