SANFORD, Fla. - Judge Debra S. Nelson ruled Thursday that the jury won't be able to consider a lesser charge of third-degree murder for George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Nelson did rule, however, that the jury can consider charging Zimmerman with a lesser charge of manslaughter, meaning the jurors will have three choices: guilty of second-degree murder, guilty of manslaughter or not guilty.
Second-degree murder carries a sentence of 25 years to life in prison. Manslaughter with a firearm carries a maximum 30-year sentence.
Zimmerman, 29, has pleaded not guilty, claiming he shot Martin in self-defense.
Nelson ruled that the jury won't consider third-degree felony murder based on child abuse, as the state had requested, because of the lack of evidence supporting it.
As the court was determining jury instructions, the defense stated they felt Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder, so the state should have to prove guilt on that charge.
"Just when I thought this case couldn't get any more bizarre ... Is the court going to give this serious attention?" West said, calling the third-degree murder charge "outrageous" and saying, "The state was lying in wait collecting all this loosely connected child abuse case law."
"Trayvon Martin is shot straddling George Zimmerman pummeling him, that somehow Zimmerman was engaged in child abuse?" West said.
Nelson said she would have rejected aggravated assault as a lesser charge if the state did not abandon it Thursday morning, seeking the third-degree felony murder instead.
Nelson said she had an issue with the child abuse being intentional in the third-degree murder felony charge. The state said the shooting is an intentional act in the child abuse statute.
Attorneys then argued whether to give jurors the definition of great bodily harm, as the state has requested. West said it is the "fear of great bodily harm" that is applicable in the case, so there is no need to describe how severe "great bodily harm" must be.
Nelson ruled that she will not give jurors the definition of great bodily harm and that the state can argue it to the jury if it wants.
West then called the verdict form "confusing" and wanted the "not guilty" option on the first page.
Zimmerman never testified about the fatal struggle with Martin, who was not armed during the altercation. Jurors, however, saw repeated video recordings of Zimmerman telling his story to investigators.
The state began its case on June 24 after nearly two weeks of jury selection and rested on July 5, calling 38 witnesses. Testimony included Martin's mother, who said it was Martin who was screaming on the background of the 911 calls.
The defense began its case July 5 and rested on July 10, calling 18 witnesses, many of whom testifying that it was Zimmerman's voice in the background of the 911 calls.
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