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.
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.