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Judge Rules George Zimmerman Jury May Consider Lesser Manslaughter Charge

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George ZimmermanGeorge Zimmerman

The George Zimmerman murder trial took another twist today as he will now face a lesser charge of manslaughter as well as a second-degree murder charge, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson ruled.

"The court will give the instruction on manslaughter as a Category One," Nelson said.

A request by the prosecution to also allow a lesser charge of third-degree felony murder against Zimmerman, who is on trial in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, angered the defense. The lesser charge of third-degree felony murder would include child abuse since Martin was only 17 when he was shot and killed.

“Just when I thought this case couldn’t get any more bizarre, the state is seeking third-degree felony murder based on child abuse?” defense attorney Don West said.

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It is not uncommon for prosecutors to try to hedge their bets, but some criminal justice experts say the prosecution’s attempt to include the lesser charge of third-degree felony murder indicates that the state is concerned that the jury would find that the 29-year-old Zimmerman shot Martin out of ill will or spite, the foundation of a second-degree murder conviction.

The prosecution is not “blind to the fact that they haven’t proven second-degree murder,” said Florida defense attorney Jose Baez, who successfully defended Casey Anthony against capital murder charges for allegedly killing her own daughter, to USA Today.

"[Zimmerman's] position is the state has charged him with second-degree murder, they should be required to prove it," West said." If they can't prove it, that's a failure of the prosecution."

A second-degree murder conviction could mean life in prison for Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer. A manslaughter charge in Florida carries up to 30 years in state prison.

Sources: CBS News, The Christian Science Monitor