State expected to present closing arguments in George Zimmerman murder trial

Zimmerman charged with murder in death of Trayvon Martin

SANFORD, Fla. - The state on Thursday is expected to present its closing arguments in the George Zimmerman murder trial.

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Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed in February 2012 in a gated Sanford community.

Judge Debra Nelson started Thursday with court proceedings outside the presence of the jury, and the state is scheduled to begin its closing around 1 p.m. The state will not present rebuttal witnesses as previously planned.

The state and defense are working to agree on jury instructions. The state changed its course on Thursday, saying it wants the jury to consider second degree murder charges, or lesser charges of manslaughter and third-degree murder.

The defense wants the jury to consider second-degree murder with no lesser charges.

Prosecutor Richard Mantei argued for the state in favor of the lesser charges Thursday morning, saying Zimmerman committed murder during course of child abuse, hence the third-degree felony murder charge.

Defense attorney Don West argued that Zimmerman believes that the state charged him with second-degree murder and they should have to prove the second-degree murder charges.

"Just when I thought this case couldn't get any more bizarre ... Is the court going to give this serious attention?" West said, calling it an "outrageous" charge 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. "Doesn't the court realize this was a trick?"

Nelson said the court will come back to the third-degree felony murder issue and will continue on the jury instructions. Nelson ruled the jury should rule on manslaughter charges, so that will be on the jury instructions.

Other arguments about jury instructions included the instruction on if Zimmerman "provoked" attack. The defense said the use of "provoked" is not needed because Martin provoked and confronted Zimmerman, attacking the testimony from witness Jayne Surdyka.

"Whatever she think she saw, she got it wrong," West said.

"There is evidence that the defendant is the provoker," Mantei argued, saying that Zimmerman said he followed Martin on foot or by car.

"Following someone on foot or by car is not against the law," West said.

Nelson said she won't give "provoked" instruction, but ruled a comma had to be removed because the "stand your ground" instruction has led to reversals on appeal.

West appeared to get agitated with the court rulings on the jury instructions not saying following a suspicious person isn't against the law and objected to it.

"You continually disagree with this court every time it makes a ruling," Nelson said, adding if West thinks she's wrong he can appeal it.

Nelson also rejected the defense's attempt to instruct jury on circumstantial evidence, something that was ruled out largely 30 years ago.

Defense attorneys rested their case on Wednesday after calling 18 witnesses over less than a week. They will likely present their closing arguments on Friday, and then the case will be given to the jury.

Zimmerman never testified about the fatal struggle with Martin, a 17-year-old Miami teen who was not armed.  Jurors, however, saw repeated video recordings of Zimmerman telling his story to investigators.

The defense started its case last Friday, and it presented about half the witnesses and took half the time as the prosecution.

In the days before the defense finished Wednesday, they called Zimmerman's friends, mother and uncle to testify that it is Zimmerman screaming for help on a 911 call that captured the fatal fight between Martin and Zimmerman.

Former Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee also testified in the trial. He spoke to Local 6 on Wednesday about why he didn't make an immediate arrest in Martin's death.

Police and city leaders in Florida also say they've taken precautionary steps for possible protests or civil unrest about the verdict.

Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty, claiming he shot Martin in self-defense.

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