In one of the most important decisions in determining whether George Zimmerman goes to jail for shooting unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, Judge Debra Nelson this morning ruled that the jury will be able to consider whether Zimmerman is guilty of manslaughter instead of second degree murder.
It is a crucial distinction for the judge to make at the close of the trial because it dictates whether Zimmerman finds himself behind bars in the next couple of weeks or resting comfortably at home with his wife as a free man.
After the defense rested its case yesterday, with closing statements coming today and tomorrow, the jury could begin deliberating as early as Friday afternoon.
After deciding on the manslaughter charge, Judge Nelson postponed her decision on whether the jury could consider a charge of third-degree murder after attorney Don West angrily objected to the charge, which according to prosecutors is based on the idea that Zimmerman committed child abuse in killing Martin.
“Oh my God,” West said to the judge. “Just when I thought this case couldn’t get any more bizarre, the state is seeking third-degree murder based on child abuse.”
Prosecutors are hoping to give jurors more options. West said in court that Zimmerman believes because the “state has charged him with second-degree murder, they should be required to prove it, if they can.”
Many observers have concluded that the state failed to meet its burden of proof for second-degree murder, but the jury might be interested in a compromise verdict of manslaughter, which would still make Zimmerman pay for provoking the conflict and killing the teen.
But Zimmerman’s lead attorney Mark O’Mara told reporters yesterday that he wasn’t interested in a compromise verdict. After resting his case, O’Mara said the jury’s only option should be the second-degree murder charge brought by prosecutors.
The attorney said that if the jurors are unable to convict Zimmerman of murder, then he should be acquitted because the shooting on Feb. 26, 2012, was intentional.
“We don’t want a compromise verdict, just like we don’t want a jury pardon,” O’Mara said. “We want a verdict based on the facts of the law and that’s an acquittal.”
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“What George did was an intentional act that he knew he was pulling the trigger, the reason why he did it was self defense and that doesn’t suggest the manslaughter charge would be appropriate,” he said.
Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda is scheduled to give closing arguments today at 1 p.m. ET, while O’Mara will give closing arguments for the defense on Friday morning.
Judge Nelson said the case could be sent to the all-female jury as early as Friday.
Though his lawyers were able to prevail on Zimmerman to decline from testifying, the jury saw several video recordings of Zimmerman telling his side to investigators, stating that he shot Martin because the teen was on top of him and had punched him and slammed his head into the ground.
O’Mara told reporters that Zimmerman wanted to testify on his behalf.
“I think he really wanted to be able to interact with this jury and say to them `This is what I did and this is why I did it. And as importantly, this is what was happening to me at the time that I decided to do what I had to do,”‘ O’Mara said. “So in that sense, yes, I think he wanted to tell his story.”
O’Mara said Zimmerman is still “worried” because he could get life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.
He said Zimmerman “believed he did what he had to do to protect himself from great bodily injury that was already being visited on him. If we presented evidence that helped the jury understand that, then we’ve done our job.”