Judge: Zimmerman jurors can consider manslaughter charge
(CNN) Jurors in the George Zimmerman second-degree murder trial will be allowed to consider at least one lesser charge — manslaughter — when they get the case after closing arguments, Judge Debra Nelson ruled Thursday.
But she put off a decision whether they could consider a charge of third-degree murder after attorney Don West offered fierce objection to the charge, which prosecutors said is based on the idea that Zimmerman committed child abuse in killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
“Oh my God,” he told Nelson. “Just when I thought this case couldn’t get any more bizarre, the state is seeking third-degree murder based on child abuse.”
Prosecutors are seeking the additional charges to give jurors more options should they find Zimmerman didn’t commit second-degree murder when he killed Martin on February 26, 2012.
In arguing unsuccessfully against the manslaughter charge, West told Nelson that Zimmerman believes that because the “state has charged him with second-degree murder, they should be required to prove it, if they can.”
Closing arguments in the case were expected to begin Thursday afternoon, after attorneys finish arguing over legal points in the jury instructions — including decisions on explaining justifiable use of force and Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law.
The law provides legal protections to people who use deadly force against attackers when faced with a fear of death or serious harm.
Zimmerman, 29, has never denied shooting Martin. But he’s contended that he did so in self defense, portraying himself as the victim and Martin as the aggressor.
But the late teen’s backers say the shooting could not be justified, with activists leading widely attended rallies and taking other steps urging authorities to press charges.
Faulting Zimmerman for ignoring a 911 dispatcher’s direction not to follow the teen, they believe Zimmerman profiled Martin because he was black.
Many of those arguments, on both sides, will likely play out during closing arguments.
Those start Thursday afternoon, when Bernie de la Rionda makes the prosecution’s case for up to two hours. Defense lawyer Mark O’Mara will make his case for up to three hours Friday morning, followed by a rebuttal of up to one hour from prosecutor John Guy.
Later Friday, the case will be in the hands of the all-female jury.
No testimony from Zimmerman
Zimmerman, from his comments to police to the arguments of his lawyers, has steadfastly maintained he shouldn’t be found guilty of murder, contending he shot the teen in self-defense.
But jurors weighing his fate won’t hear that from him directly.
On Wednesday afternoon, Judge Debra Nelson asked Zimmerman if he’d made a decision about taking the stand in his own defense.
“After consulting with counsel,” Zimmerman replied, he’d decided “not to testify, your honor.”
Moments later — and after Nelson refused a request from Zimmerman’s team to dismiss the case before the jury could weigh in — the defense rested its case.