TEXAS, July 12, 2013—In what many are calling a setback for the defense, Zimmerman trial Judge, Debra Nelson on Thursday gave the jury the option of convicting George Zimmerman of the lesser charge of manslaughter in the February 26, 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin.
Above the objections of defense attorney Don West, who argued that the jury should only be allowed to consider convicting Zimmerman of second-degree murder or finding him not-guilty, Judge Nelson ruled that the jurors could consider a manslaughter conviction.
“The state charged him with second-degree murder. They should be required to prove it,” West said. “If they wanted to charge him with manslaughter they could do that.”
Second-degree murder requires that prosecutors prove that in killing Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman acted with ill will, hatred or spite. Manslaughter only requires that prosecutors prove that Zimmerman killed Martin without lawful justification.
The defense, however, does not believe that the state met its burden in proving second-degree murder.
When the state rested its case on July 5, Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O’Mara argued outside the presence of the jury, that the state had not proved second-degree murder, and motioned for a Judgment of Acquittal. This would have allowed Judge Nelson to acquit Zimmerman if she had agreed with the defense that the evidence the state presented was insufficient to warrant a conviction.
“What is before the court is an enormous amount of information that my client acted in necessary self-defense,” O’Mara said, asking for the judgment of acquittal. “There’s nothing to support my client did anything to re-engage or to engage Mr. Martin whatsoever.” Judge Nelson denied O’Mara’s motion.
The prosecution, however, believes it has proven second-degree murder.
During closing arguments, lead prosecutor Bernie 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. According to de la Rionda, Zimmerman “profiled” Martin as a criminal.
“He assumed Trayvon Martin was a criminal,” de la Rionda said. “That is why we are here.”
That prosecutors asked for the jury to be allowed to consider a lesser conviction such as manslaughter is not usual in Florida murder cases. It is also not unusual for judges to grant such requests.
However, by allowing a manslaughter conviction, Judge Nelson may have opened the door for jurors who may have had reservations about sending George Zimmerman to prison for the rest of his life, to convict him of a charge that carries on its face, a lighter sentence. However, Florida law allows judges to impose longer sentences for crimes committed with a gun. This makes it possible for Zimmerman to be convicted of manslaughter, but still be sentenced as if he had been convicted of second-degree murder.
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