SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — A judge said Thursday that jurors in the George Zimmerman case can consider the lesser charge of manslaughter, but she delayed ruling on whether they may also consider third-degree murder after defense attorneys called the proposal “outrageous.”
Prosecutor Richard Mantei argued that instructions for third-degree murder should be included on the premise that Zimmerman committed child abuse when he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin because Martin was underage.
But defense attorney Don West called the proposed instruction “a trick,” and he accused the prosecutor of springing it on the defense at the last minute.
“Just when I didn’t think this case could get any more bizarre, the state is alleging child abuse?” West said. “This is outrageous. It’s outrageous the state would seek to do this at this time.”
Judge Debra Nelson says she will rule on the proposal later. The judge, however, agreed with the prosecution that jurors could consider manslaughter as a lesser charge.
West said he wanted the six jurors to only consider the second-degree murder charge or not guilty.
“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.”
Jurors could begin deliberating as early as Friday. Prosecutors were expected to give closing arguments Thursday afternoon, followed by the defense closing on Friday morning.
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. On the night of the fatal scuffle in February 2012, Martin was visiting his father and his father’s fiancee at the same townhome complex where Zimmerman lived.
Zimmerman observed Martin while driving in his neighborhood, called police and the fight ensued after the neighborhood watch volunteer got out of his vehicle. Zimmerman claims Martin was slamming his head into the concrete pavement when he fired his gun.
Some civil rights activists argued that a delay in charging Zimmerman was influenced by Martin’s race, and protests were held around the nation in the 44 days between the fatal fight and Zimmerman’s arrest. Martin was black and Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://twitter.com/khightower.
Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP