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Zimmerman trial: Case bound for jury today

On Thursday the judge ruled the jury in the George Zimmerman trial may consider the lesser charge of manslaughter in lieu of second-degree murder, to which Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty. NBC's Ron Mott reports.


Jurors in the trial of George Zimmerman will have three options when they begin deliberations Friday: They can convict him of the second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin, they can convict him of manslaughter or they can declare him not guilty of anything.

The six women on the panel heard closing arguments Thursday from prosecutors who portrayed Zimmerman as a wannabe cop and a liar whose account of being attacked by Martin defies logic.

They'll hear closing arguments from Zimmerman's lawyers Friday morning, and after rebuttal from the prosecution, Seminole County, Fla., Circuit Judge Debra Nelson will give them their instructions — which Nelson posted on the court's website Thursday night.

To convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder, the jurors would have to conclude that Zimmerman's actions Feb. 26, 2012, demonstrated "a depraved mind without regard for human life." That's the standard instruction under Florida law.

If they decide Zimmerman didn't commit second-degree murder, they would then move on to considering whether his actions constituted manslaughter.

In her posted jury instructions, Nelson wrote that “to convict of manslaughter by act, it is not necessary for the State to prove that George Zimmerman had an intent to cause death, only an intent to commit an act that was not merely negligent, justified, or excusable and which caused death.”       

Zimmerman's lawyers did win a partial victory earlier Thursday, when Nelson slapped down prosecutors' last-minute request to include a charge of third-degree murder with child abuse as the underlying felony — a request defense attorney Don West called "outrageous." Nelson said the evidence didn't support that idea.

Zimmerman, 29, has pleaded not guilty, saying he acted in self-defense. He did not testify during the trial, but prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda used his words — from calls to police, interrogations and a TV interview — during his closing argument to paint him as an overeager neighborhood watchman who “went over the line” the night of Feb. 26, 2012. 

"He automatically assumed Trayvon Martin was a criminal," de la Rionda said. "And that’s why we’re here."

Martin was an “innocent 17-year-old kid” who had just celebrated his birthday three weeks earlier and was just walking back from buying Skittles and a drink a convenience store when Zimmerman started following him, de la Rionda said.

Zimmerman “decided he was up to no good,” the prosecutor said.

"He assumed things that weren’t true. Instead of waiting for the police to come and do their job, he did not. He, the defendant, wanted to make sure that Trayvon Martin didn’t get out of the neighborhood."

De la Rionda highlighted what he said were inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s story, repeatedly focusing on the defendant’s statement to police that Martin hit him 20 to 30 times, even though witnesses said his injuries appeared minor.

"Why exaggerate them unless he’s lying about the whole thing?” the prosecutor asked.

He also addressed the dispute over who is heard yelling in the background of a 911 call during the struggle —  by showing jurors a slide that asked which item’s owner would be more like to scream for help above a picture of a gun and a picture of a juice drink.

Jurors were also shown the last picture ever taken of Martin, his autopsy photo.

“The only photographs left of Trayvon Martin are those ME photos,” de la Rionda said.

“They [Martin’s parents] can’t take any more photos and that’s true because of the actions of one person, the man before you, the defendant George Zimmerman, the man who is guilty of second-degree murder.”

While de la Rionda was vehement and sometimes sarcastic as he walked jurors through the evidence from the three-week trial, he wrapped up on a more muted note.

“I ask you to come back with a verdict that speaks the truth, a verdict that is just,” he asked jurors.

NBC News’ M. Alex Johnson contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company strongly denies the allegation.

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