July 13 (Bloomberg) -- The Florida jury weighing charges against George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin asked for clarification of their instructions regarding manslaughter, the lesser of the two charges before the panel.
After reading the jury’s question from the bench today, Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson called a 30-minute recess. The six-woman jury began its deliberations yesterday.
During a trial that has drawn national attention for its implications on race and guns, jurors in Sanford, Florida, heard contrasting stories of the events in a townhouse complex on the night of Feb. 26, 2012, that left Martin dead from a single gunshot through the heart.
Prosecutors argue that Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, profiled, pursued and murdered Martin, who was carrying a can of iced tea, a bag of Skittles and $40 in cash at the time. Zimmerman, 29, told police in videotaped statements that he acted in self-defense after Martin, 17, punched him in the face, knocked him to the ground and threatened to kill him.
The killing of the unarmed black youth by a man whose father is white and mother is Hispanic sparked protests in several U.S. cities led by civil rights figures including Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
Zimmerman, who had a license to carry a concealed weapon, is charged with second-degree murder, although Nelson gave jurors the option by of finding him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
The jurors will have to “consider the circumstances surrounding the killing” to decide whether it was second-degree murder or manslaughter, or whether it “resulted from justifiable use of deadly force,” Nelson said in her instructions yesterday.
Second-degree murder carries a minimum of 25 years in prison if the crime involved a firearm and the possibility of a life sentence. A manslaughter conviction involving a firearm might result in 30 years in prison, according to Zimmerman’s lawyer, Mark O’Mara.
The case is State of Florida v. Zimmerman, 1712FO4573, Florida Circuit Court, 18th Judicial Circuit, Seminole County (Sanford).
To contact the reporters on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at email@example.com; Christopher Boyd in the 18th Judicial Circuit Court in Sanford, Florida.
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