SANFORD, Fla. – Judge Debra Nelson ruled Thursday that the jury in the George Zimmerman trial will have the option to convict Zimmerman of manslaughter for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, but that they won’t be able to consider third-degree murder.
The highest charge against Zimmerman is second-degree murder. Under Florida law, that charge is an unlawful killing which “evinces a depraved mind regardless of human life.”
Zimmerman’s defense said they only wanted the jury to consider the initial second-degree charge. “We don’t want a compromise verdict, just like we don’t want a jury pardon,” said Zimmerman attorney Mark O’Mara on Wednesday. “We want a verdict based on the facts of the law and that’s an acquittal.”
In an apparent surprise to Zimmerman’s defense, state attorneys also sought to include a charge of third-degree murder against Zimmerman Thursday morning. They argued that Zimmerman committed child abuse against Martin who was 17-years-old when he was killed.
Zimmerman attorney Don West was visibly upset by the suggestion. “Oh my God,” he said, “just when I thought this case couldn’t get any more bizarre.”
Judge Nelson granted his plea for more time to craft a response to the third-degree murder option, giving the defense an hour — during a lunchtime recess — to prepare a rebuttal.
After lunch, Nelson ruled against the third-degree inclusion.
“I just don’t think the evidence supports that,” Nelson said in her ruling, in a win for the defense.
Florida law requires mandatory minimum sentences with additional years tacked on for crimes committed with a firearm. If convicted of second-degree murder, Zimmerman would be sentenced to at least 25 years in prison. With a manslaughter conviction, he would face up to 30 years.
The six-person all-female jury could receive the case for deliberation as early as Friday afternoon. Closing statements are set to begin Thursday afternoon.