George Zimmerman jury questions manslaughter option

After deliberating for almost eight hours Saturday, jurors deciding whether neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman committed a crime when he fatally shot an unarmed black teenager 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, the judge talked to lawyers at her bench and then said court would recess for a half hour.

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 17-year-old Trayvon 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 that 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.

The judge's decision to allow consideration of a manslaughter charge was a potentially heavy blow to the defense: It could give jurors who aren't convinced the shooting amounted to murder a way to hold Zimmerman responsible for the killing.

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. Zimmerman has identified himself as Hispanic.

Over three weeks, the jury heard dueling portraits of the neighborhood watch captain: a cop want-to-be who took the law into his own hands or a well-meaning volunteer who shot Martin because he feared for his life.

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 1/2 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 Martin's family.

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.

In Saturday's strong Florida sun, some people at the courthouse wore hoodies, as Martin had when he died. One woman lay in the grass, her arms spread, in a re-creation of Martin's death. Those in the smaller pro-Zimmerman camp held small signs, saying things like "We love you George" and "George got hit you must acquit."

Police and civic leaders have pleaded for calm in Sanford and across the country after the verdict.

"There is no party in this case who wants to see any violence," Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said. "We have an expectation upon this announcement that our community will continue to act peacefully."

In New York on Saturday, the Rev. Al Sharpton said that no matter the verdict, any demonstrations that follow it must be peaceful.

"We do not want to smear Trayvon Martin's name with violence," the civil rights leader said. "He is a victim of violence."

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Martin's family, said the parents are emotional but doing as well as expected as they await a verdict.

"(Jurors) staying out longer and considering the evidence and testimony is a good thing for us arriving at a just verdict," Crump said.

On Saturday morning, Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, shared on Twitter what she called her favorite Bible verse: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."

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