By: Yamiche Alcindor and John Bacon, USA TODAY
Judge adds manslaughter possibility but rejects prosecution request for third-degree murder. Jury deliberations could begin Friday.
SANFORD, Fla. -- Trayvon Martin is dead because George Zimmerman "tracked" and then shot Trayvon Martin instead of waiting for police to arrive, prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda told the jury at Zimmerman's murder trial.
De la Rionda, presenting the prosecution's closing argument, accused Zimmerman of taking the law into his own hands during their February 2012 confrontation.
The defense team, scheduled to close Friday, has maintained that Trayvon, 17, was the aggressor and that Zimmerman, 29, shot him in self-defense.
Using a projector, de la Rionda showed jurors a photo of Zimmerman taken at the police station the night of the shooting -- alongside a close up of Trayvon's dead body.
De la Rionda noted that Trayvon's hands had no blood on them, said his hoodie string may have been pulled down by Zimmerman in a struggle.
"His (Trayvon's) body speaks to you," de la Rionda said. "It proves to you that this defendant is lying about what happened."
De la Rionda focused on his theory that Trayvon was an innocent teen who was wrongly profiled and murdered by Zimmerman. De la Rionda told jury the key word in the prosecution case was "assumptions."
"He automatically assumed that Trayvon Martin was a criminal and that is why we are here," de la Rionda said of Zimmerman. Later he said Trayvon was not trespassing in the gated community, but rather was being a normal teen making a trip to the store.
De la Rionda also painted Zimmerman as someone who already knew he could ultimately win any confrontation with Trayvon.
"He's got a gun, he's got the equalizer," de la Rionda said. He asked the six-woman jury to use "your God-given common sense" and find the former neighborhood watch volunteer guilty of second-degree murder.
Earlier, Judge Debra Nelson agreed to add manslaughter to the second-degree murder charge Zimmerman already faced, but rejected a prosecution request that a third-degree murder count also be added.
Zimmerman's attorneys had objected to adding any lesser charges.
The last-minute effort to add charges was seen by some legal experts as an indication that prosecutors were not confident about their chances for a second-degree murder conviction. Zimmerman has been portrayed by prosecutors as a wanna-be cop.
"They aren't going to go all or nothing," said Jose Baez, a Florida criminal defense attorney, of state prosecutors. "They aren't blind to the fact that they haven't proven second-degree murder." Baez successfully defended Casey Anthony, a Florida mother accused of killing her daughter in a high-profile capital murder case.
Second-degree murder in Florida carries a possible life sentence. If convicted of manslaughter, Zimmerman could get up to 30 years.
Elizabeth Parker, a Florida criminal defense attorney who has been monitoring the case, said the third-degree murder count could bring a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
Prosecutors also had considered but then decided against trying to add the charge of aggravated assault, which would carry no more than a five-year prison term.
The third-degree murder charge request drew a heated argument. Third-degree murder can involve death that results from committing a felony, even if the accused did not mean to kill the victim.
Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei, arguing for the count, said Zimmerman committed "child abuse" -- a felony -- on Trayvon.
Don West argued against their claim, saying child abuse had never been mentioned during the trial. He called the attempt to add the third-degree murder charge a "trick by the state."
Zimmerman's attorneys get three hours for their closing Friday. The state will then get one hour to present rebuttal statements.
The jury could begin deliberations Friday.
BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO
It’s too early in the George Zimmerman murder trial to make any predictions.
But at least one of the prevailing questions arising before the six-woman jury was seated and sequestered — can Zimmerman get a fair trial, given the high-profile status of the case and the excessive publicity surrounding it? — has been answered with a resounding “Yes.”
For one, the neighborhood watchman’s defense team has been exhaustingly aggressive in its cross-examination of every state witness, with enough success, it seems, to plant doubt and drive observers to question the prosecution’s strategy and speculate that a second-degree murder conviction will be impossible for a jury to reach.
On Tuesday, defense attorney Mark O’Mara tried to keep out evidence that portrays Zimmerman as a wannabe cop whose zealotry led him to profile 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was returning on a rainy night from a trip to a 7-Eleven, as a potential criminal.
The evidence — college documents and a request to ride along with police officers — shows that Zimmerman was a criminal justice major who knew enough about Florida law to quickly come up with a self-defense story that would justify his use of deadly force against the unarmed Miami Gardens teen, who was staying with his father in the Sanford gated community where Zimmerman lived.
Judge Debra Nelson is scheduled to rule Wednesday about whether the jury will see the documents, which bolster the prosecution’s contention that Zimmerman acted as a vigilante who profiled and followed Trayvon, provoking the altercation that led to his killing.
But regardless, the star witness against Zimmerman the past two days has been Zimmerman himself.
Not that he has said anything in court — but prosecutors put him on the stand on tape Monday being interviewed by police investigators and again on Tuesday being interviewed by Fox News’ Sean Hannity. The television celebrity may have asked softball questions, but along with police interviews Zimmerman’s statements have significant inconsistencies.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only person puzzled by Zimmerman’s account to Sanford Police investigator Doris Singleton the night of the killing. He seemed to have a clear recollection of how everything occurred, but when asked out of the blue about the position of Trayvon Martin’s body, the way Travyon went down when he was shot, Zimmerman said he couldn’t remember.
In another interview, Zimmerman claimed he spread out Trayvon’s arms after the shooting, but a photo taken immediately after the shooting shows Martin face down with his arms under his body.
Zimmerman told Singleton that Trayvon jumped out at him from bushes, but during the scene walk-through and re-creation the next day, there are only spare bushes and Zimmerman doesn’t mention them. He says Trayvon came up from behind buildings.
None of these are small inconsistencies.
“The truth about the murder of Trayvon Martin is going to come directly from his mouth,” prosecutor John Guy predicted in opening statements.
And so, on Day 17 of a trial expected to last a while longer, the one question that remains unanswered is, will Trayvon Martin get any justice?
It may be difficult, but not impossible.
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