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Zimmerman trial: Jurors seek definition of manslaughter

Crime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemHomicideGeorge ZimmermanTrayvon Martin

SANFORD, Fla. -- The jury in the George Zimmerman murder trial has asked the judge to clarify the definition of manslaughter, one of the charges available to jurors as they consider the fate of Zimmerman.

After deliberating for more than 12 hours over two days, the six-woman jury brought all the parties back to court shortly before 6 p.m. with a telling question.

Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson read the question in open court: “May we please have clarification on the instructions regarding manslaughter?”

Zimmerman, 29, who had been smiling when he returned to court, immediately grew serious.

The jurors were not present when the question was read out loud.

Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year, but the judge also allowed jurors to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Murder requires the state to have shown that Zimmerman acted with ill will, hatred or spite; manslaughter requires showing that Zimmerman shot without lawful justification. Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, whereas  manslaughter can result in a sentence of up to 30 years.

The jury began deliberating about 2:30 p.m. Friday and has made only one other request, for a list of the more than 60 exhibits in the trial, which began June 10.

Zimmerman’s attorneys say their client shot Martin in self-defense, while prosecutors have argued that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who is Latino, racially profiled the black teenager and then lied about the attack.

After reading the question, Nelson called a half-hour recess.

Muskal reported from Los Angeles, Hennessy-Fiske from Sanford.

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