Jury in Zimmerman trial may consider lesser charge

Six jurors will have three options for Zimmerman when they start deliberations as early as Friday: guilty of second-degree murder, guilty of manslaughter or not guilty.
Associated Press
Jul 11, 2013

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."

The prosecutor told the jury that Zimmerman wanted to be a police officer and that's why he followed Martin. But "the law doesn't allow people to take the law into their own hands," de la Rionda said.

De la Rionda's two-hour presentation also included moments when he seemed to appeal to jurors' emotions by showing a head shot from Martin's autopsy and a face-up crime scene photo of Martin. Several jurors looked away.

The prosecutor also repeatedly asked why Zimmerman left his truck the night of the shooting.

"Why does this defendant get out of his car if he thought Trayvon Martin is a threat to him?" de la Rionda asked. "Why? Because he had a gun."

Later, when he straddled a foam mannequin to dispute Zimmerman's account of how the struggle unfolded, the entire back row of jurors stood. One juror even stepped down to get a better view.

De la Rionda implored jurors to believe the account of Martin's friend Rachel Jeantel, who was on the phone with him moments before the shooting and said she heard him yelling, "Get off!" The prosecutor asked jurors to discount her "colorful language," and he put a twist on a quote by the Rev. Martin Luther King to persuade them.

"She should be judged not by the color of her personality but by the content of her testimony," de la Rionda said.

Zimmerman's lawyers are expected to deliver their closing arguments Friday morning.



The Big Dog's back

If I had a son he would look like one of the over 5,000 killed in Iraq.


Isn't your uncle your brother


"The prosecutor told the jury that Zimmerman wanted to be a police officer and that's why he followed Martin. But "the law doesn't allow people to take the law into their own hands," de la Rionda said."

UMMMM.....CONJECTURE?!? His atty must suck. Too bad.


this isn't about who looks like who or that one attorney got "chewed up " by the judge. It IS about the second lessor charge placed by the prosecutor on Zimmerman at the last moment. It makes one feel that the prosecutor may not have such a great case on Murder 1 and needs the lessor charge to get any conviction. I wonder why they waited to long to add it.


The charge was murder 2 not 1. That said, manslaughter should have been the original charge. Murder is difficult to prove. Casey Anthony comes to mind. O.J. too! I don't think his intention was to kill anyone that night but he did. If you are scared you don't follow the monster. Kids know that!


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights) and Libel and defamation.


We get it pooh. Actually, we got it the first hundred times you wrote it. Is Zimmerman white or Hispanic?


Are you asking about his race or ethnicity? One of your choices is race, the other is ethnicity, they don't denote the same thing.


Semantics? Is he white or not?


Are you trying to claim the trial is about race? If so I didn't hear the lawyers from either side make any reference to it, why are you trying to make it about race? Can't prove the case with evidence so you try to grasp any straw?

And no it is not semantics. Words have meanings and if you are trying to get a point across and use words that don't convey what you mean it is a worthless statement. It would mean nothing.


You are trying to turn this conversation into one of race. Nice try. Wrong guy!


You are the one asking what race the defendant is, also what ethncity he is.


Re: "Is he white or not?"

Race should not be the issue. We are either a nation of laws or a nation of men.

The race-baiters want the latter.


POOH, you can hurl all the insults and name calling you want. Your words have NO power!


Re: "Your words have NO power!"

A prejudicial Obama-hole would think that.

The Big Dog's back

So pooh, at what point of your repeated lies do they become true? 2 times? 5 times? How many? You too sock puppet (grumpy).


Re: "Is Zimmerman white or Hispanic?"

"Zimmerman has a Peruvian mother and a white father."

Hispanics can often be a combination of Native Americans and Spanish.

You figure it out.


Only a brain dead Obama-hole would believe that this case AIN'T political.


In my humble opinion, there should never have been a trial. Could the reason be, afraid of riots? Now that the state sees it can't prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, they say how about a lesser charge. They want to get him regardless. Political? Yes.


It is not uncommon to include lesser charges in these types of trial. All of you seem to forget that a young boy is dead thru no fault of his own. Zimmerman's account of what happened does not seem truthful to me! I just don't think it is political in nature.


A broken nose and lacerations on the head of Zimmerman belie your statement of thru no fault of his own. But don't let evidence sway your bias.


Should have stayed in his car Tigger! You don't pursue, follow, or whatever word suits you if you are soooooooooooooo scared!


What law did either break before Martin belted Zimmerman in the nose?

The Big Dog's back

I don't know for sure because I wasn't there. Oh wait, neither were you.


You are 100% correct. That is called reasonable doubt. That is all the defense has to prove. You just made their case for them.

It is not maybe happened, coulda happened, shoulda happened, in some hypothetical way. The prosecutor has to prove what happened and how it happened, and who did what. He didn't. Doesn't matter that there were no witnesses, video, or anything else. The prosecutor has to prove who did what to whom, not that this is how it could have happened, not this is probably how it happened. He has to prove how and what happened, if he doesn't it is cause for reasonable doubt. That is the way the law is supposed to work, no guessing, no maybes, proof.

The defense doesn't have to prove what happened. The prosecutor does have to prove what happened. Thus the term reasonable doubt. That is all the defense has to do, show that there is reasonable doubt about the unsubstantiated claims of the prosecutor


Trayvon sure can't tell us and he was there! The prosecutor can prove who is DEAD!


And that trumps reasonable doubt, in what way? But that is only if you wish to follow the judicial way. You seem to simply want revenge, that doesn't require proof, so it seems to be right up your alley. That would also be against the law. Keep grasping for straws.

The Big Dog's back

Let's see, 1 person stalking and armed with a gun, and 1 person with skittles and tea. The person stalking and armed with the gun shot and killed the person with skittles and tea. The person stalking and armed with a gun, alive and well. The person with the skittles and tea, DEAD!


Wonderful way to skip through the events and evidence of what happened to spotlight only the things you wish to.

If that is all that happened why did the trial last as long as it did? Are you another who is only interested in revenge instead of following the law? It sounds suspiciously like you are. Do you know that revenge is against the law? Or is it that you don't care about the law?

The Big Dog's back

Ahhhhh actually it was a short trial compared to other high profile trials.


Agreed! Tigger, if one of your cubs were shot and killed on the way home, what would you do? Would you just say "Oh well"?