Sanford, Fla. • After deliberating for almost eight hours Saturday, jurors deciding whether George Zimmerman committed a crime when he fatally shot Trayvon Martin stopped their work to ask the judge a question about manslaughter.
"May we please have clarification on the instructions regarding manslaughter," Judge Debra Nelson read from the jurors’ note before a courtroom that had rapidly filled up with lawyers, reporters and members of the families of Martin and Zimmerman.
As jurors awaited an answer, Nelson talked to lawyers at the bench and then said court would recess for a half hour. When attorneys returned, prosecutor Richard Mantei said that after conducting research, he would suggest asking the jurors to elaborate. Defense attorney Mark O’Mara agreed.
"Let’s get clarification on their confusion," O’Mara said.
The judge then sent a note back to the jury that read: "The court can’t engage in general discussion but may be able to address a specific question regarding clarification of the instructions regarding manslaughter. If you have a specific question, please submit it."
Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder but jurors also have the options of finding him guilty of manslaughter or not guilty. He has pleaded not guilty, claiming he shot the 17-year-old Martin in self-defense.
To win a manslaughter conviction, prosecutors must show only that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification. To win a second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors must convince jurors Zimmerman acted with ill will, hatred or spite toward Martin.
Zimmerman faces a maximum prison sentence of life for second-degree murder and 30 years if convicted of manslaughter, due to extra sentencing guidelines for committing a crime with a gun.
Outside lawyers with no connection to the case said the jury’s question could be an indication that it has taken second-degree murder off the table.
"It does sound like at this point, they’re considering between manslaughter and not guilty," said Blaine McChesney, an Orlando defense attorney and former prosecutor with no connection to the case.
Added Orlando defense attorney David Hill: "Why would they bother to ask for clarification unless they were thinking about manslaughter?"
The jury of six women started deliberating Friday afternoon. At the time they asked their question about manslaughter Saturday, they had been deliberating for a total of 11 ½ hours over two days. On Friday, they made their first question: a request for a list of all the evidence.
Jurors were being sequestered, and their identities are kept anonymous — they are identified only by number.
As jurors deliberated for a second day, there was little understanding between two camps assembled to support Martin and Zimmerman outside the Seminole County Courthouse.
"He deserves some respect and appreciation," Casey David Kole Sr., 66, shouted about the former neighborhood watch leader. "It’s a tragedy."
Patricia Dalton, 60, yelled back: "It’s a tragedy that could have been avoided!"
Dalton, like most of the 100 or so people at the suburban Orlando courthouse, says she’s there in support of the family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black teen from Miami who Zimmerman fatally shot last year.
The supporters stayed peaceful for most of the day until in the afternoon when sheriff’s deputies had to separate a Zimmerman supporter from a pro-Martin demonstrator after a heated exchange. There was no physical contact made and no one was arrested.
The atmosphere quickly cooled down. Two Orlando sisters, dressed in colorful African-print clothing and walking on stilts, sang "Lean on Me" with the crowd as a man strummed a banjo and people waved signs.
"We’re just here for peace and love," said stilt walker Bambi Loketo.
Prosecutors and Trayvon Martin’s family say Zimmerman profiled Martin because of the teen’s race. Those allegations, and a 44-day delay before police arrested Zimmerman, sparked nationwide protests involving leading national civil rights leaders and spurred emotional debates about gun control, self-defense laws, race, and equal justice under the law.Next Page >
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