Zimmerman jury asks for 'clarification' on manslaughter charge

Liz Goodwin
Senior National Affairs Reporter
Yahoo! News
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SANFORD, Fla--After more than 12 hours of deliberation, the jury in the George Zimmerman case has asked the court for "clarification" on the charge of manslaughter. The question is likely to make the defense nervous, since it suggests the all-female jury could be seriously weighing a conviction on the lesser charge in the case.

Both the prosecution and defense agreed that the jurors need to ask a more specific question, saying they cannot engage in "general discussions" about the charge. Judge Debra Nelson agreed to send the attorneys' response back to the jurors around 7:00 p.m. Saturday night.

Zimmerman, a 29-year-old volunteer neighborhood watchman, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, whom the defendant shot during a scuffle in a nearby gated community on Feb 26, 2012. The jury was also told it could convict Zimmerman on the lesser charge of manslaughter, or acquit him as not guilty of any crime. Zimmerman argued he acted in self defense.

The jury was told in its instructions that Zimmerman merited a manslaughter charge if he killed Martin intentionally and the killing was not justified.

The jurors deliberated for 12.5 hours--including a one-hour lunch during which they were allowed to discuss the case--before alerting the court they had a question. "May we please have clarification on the instructions regarding manslaughter?" the question read. The sequestered, anonymous jurors have only made one other request during their deliberations--for an itemized list of all the evidence presented during the trial on Friday.

For the jury to convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder, the prosecution would have to prove that Zimmerman had “a depraved mind without regard for human life” when he shot Martin. A lesser manslaughter conviction could be handed down if the jury believes Zimmerman had no lawful reason to kill Martin. Zimmerman is legally justified in killing Martin if the jury finds he had a “reasonable” belief that his own life was in jeopardy or that he could suffer bodily harm from Martin.

In closing arguments Friday, Assistant District Attorney John Guy argued that it was the unarmed Martin who tried to defend himself. “Ask yourself, ‘Who lost the fight?’” Guy said. “That child had every right to be afraid of a strange man following him, first in his car and then on foot. And did that child not have the right to defend himself from that strange man?”

Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara argued over three hours in his closing remarks that Martin was not “unarmed.” He dragged out a chunk of concrete and laid it in front of the jury to make the point that Martin used the pavement as a “weapon” against his client when he allegedly slammed his head against it in their scuffle.

Before beginning their deliberations, jurors received the following instructions pertaining to manslaughter:

To prove the crime of Manslaughter, the State must prove the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
1. Trayvon Martin is dead.
2. George Zimmerman intentionally committed an act or acts that caused the death of Trayvon Martin.

George Zimmerman cannot be guilty of manslaughter by committing a merely negligent act or if the killing was either justifiable or excusable homicide:
Each of us has a duty to act reasonably toward others. If there is a violation of that duty, without any conscious intention to harm, that violation is negligence.
The killing of a human being is justifiable homicide and lawful if necessarily done while resisting an attempt to murder or commit a felony upon George Zimmerman, or to commit a felony in any dwelling house in which George Zimmerman was at the time of the killing.

The killing of a human being is excusable, and therefore lawful, under any one of the following three circumstances:
1. When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune in doing any lawful act by lawful means with usual ordinary caution and without any unlawful intent, or
2. When the killing occurs by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation, or
3. When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune resulting from a sudden combat, if a dangerous weapon is not used and the killing is not done in a cruel or unusual manner.

In order to convict of manslaughter by act, it is not necessary for the State to prove that George Zimmerman had an intent to cause death, only an intent to commit an act that was not merely negligent, justified, or excusable and which caused death.

If you find George Zimmerman committed Manslaughter, and you also find beyond a reasonable doubt that during the commission of the Manslaughter, George Zimmerman carried, displayed, used, threatened to use, or attempted to use a firearm, you should check the appropriate box on the verdict form which I will discuss with you later in these instructions.