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Zimmerman case: Judge rejects prosecution request for added charge

July 11, 2013|By Michael Muskal and Tina Susman
  • Defense attorney Don West, standing, argues his points on lesser charges to Judge Debra Nelson as George Zimmerman, right, and attorney Lorna Truett listen.
Defense attorney Don West, standing, argues his points on lesser charges… (Gary W. Green / Pool Photo )

The judge in the George Zimmerman murder case ruled against a prosecution request to include a third-degree felony murder charge among the options to be sent to the jury when it begins deliberations in the matter.

Judge Debra S. Nelson said on Thursday she had decided not to allow the additional charge, based on a prosecution theory that Zimmerman had committed child abuse when he shot Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla.

The request had drawn a sharp rebuttal from the defense and had led to one of the more testy confrontations in the trial, which began with jury selection last month.

GRAPHIC: Who's who in the Trayvon Martin case

Earlier, Nelson had decided to let jurors consider one lesser charge of manslaughter when they begin their deliberations on whether the neighborhood watch volunteer murdered Martin or shot the unarmed teenager in self-defense.

Closing arguments in the case began Thursday afternoon with the prosecution arguing that Zimmerman was at fault.

Lawyers spent the morning arguing about what instruction Nelson will give the six women on the jury. The instruction, or charge, is essentially the blueprint of how the jurors will weigh the weeks of evidence and more than 55 witnesses who took the stand.

Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Martin, 17. Zimmerman maintains he shot in self-defense when Martin attacked him.

The prosecution on Thursday was seeking to broaden the judge’s charge to allow jurors to consider lesser charges than second-degree murder, which requires the proof that Zimmerman acted with ill will, spite or hatred in shooting Martin. The defense sought to keep the jury’s choice to either the harder-to-prove top charge of second-degree murder or outright acquittal.

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On Wednesday, the state indicated that it also wanted to include an aggravated assault charge but on Thursday morning dropped that plan for a request to add third-degree felony murder based on a theory that Martin was killed while Zimmerman was committing a felony -- child abuse, because Martin was younger than 18.

The additional charge “simply requires that the victim be under the age of 18 and be subjected to … child abuse,” prosecutor Richard Mantei told the judge.

Defense attorney Don West, who has sparred with Nelson before, rose from his seat.

“Oh my God. Just when I thought this case couldn’t get any more bizarre,” West said, as he responded to the state’s theory of child abuse allegations.

“The state is seeking third-degree murder based on child abuse,” an incredulous West said. “Is the court going to give this any serious contention or consideration? Because if so, we have a lot of talking to do.”

Nelson replied that the request for the lesser charge required a felony, and child abuse fell into that category.

West argued that the state had been “lying in wait, collecting all this loosely connected child abuse case law” to use at the last minute in a new charge.

“Child abuse? Really? This is not fair to me, Mr. Zimmerman, [defense counsel] Mr. [Mark] O’Mara or the court.... This is outrageous,” West said.

“This was a trick,” West said. “Doesn’t the court realize this was a trick by the state....”


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