Jury Begins Deliberations in Zimmerman Trial

After three weeks of testimony, jurors are considering charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

(Gary Green/AP/Orlando Sentinel)

George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges relating to the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

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Jurors on Friday began their deliberations in the high-profile murder trial of George Zimmerman, following nearly three weeks of testimony from friends and family members, police and neighbors of both Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.

The all-female panel will consider charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Zimmerman is accused of fatally shooting 17-year-old Martin and has pleaded not guilty. He maintains that he acted in self defense – a point that defense attorney Mark O'Mara reiterated Friday in his closing arguments.

Prosecutors have attempted to portray Zimmerman as a vigilante who profiled the unarmed teenager, while the defense says Martin attacked the former neighborhood watch volunteer, and that there is not enough evidence to prove otherwise.

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"A teenager is dead. He is dead through no fault of his own," prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda said in his closing argument on Thursday. "He is dead because a man made assumptions ... Unfortunately because his assumptions were wrong, Trayvon Benjamin Martin no longer walks this Earth."

O'Mara told jurors that the defense team has proven Zimmerman's "pure, unadulterated innocence" in the murder of the Florida teenager and that the state had presented a case full of hypotheticals.

"If it hasn't been proven, it's just not there," O'Mara said. "You can't fill in the gaps. You can't connect the dots. You're not allowed to."

That's because in order to convict Zimmerman, 29, of second-degree murder, the jury has to conclude that beyond reasonable doubt, he did not act in self defense, says Jules Epstein, an associate professor of law at Widener University.

Epstein said one hole in the case is the fact that there is so much ambiguity and that there were no eyewitnesses of the scuffle. The conviction must be "all or nothing," and if the jurors cannot say with ultimate certainty that Zimmerman acted with ill will or hatred, then they cannot convict him.

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"One of the biggest problems is, can anyone tell what did happen?" Epstein says. "If the answer is 'No,' then automatically you have to find the client not guilty."

The prosecution argued in its closing statements that Zimmerman made several assumptions and profiled the teenager before he followed and shot him, showing that he acted out of ill will. De la Rionda said on Thursday that Martin was "minding his own business" and that Zimmerman acted as a "wannabe cop" and "automatically assumed" the teenager was a criminal.

Zimmerman has said there had been a string of robberies in the neighborhood and he found Martin to be suspicious.

"When you really, honestly think about it, who was more scared?" de la Rionda said. "Trayvon Martin, unfortunately, can't come into this courtroom and tell you how he was feeling. And that is true because of the actions of one man: the defendant."

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But jurors will also be considering the lesser charge of manslaughter, which also has the possibility of life in prison. In order to be convicted of manslaughter, a jury must prove that the defendant "sincerely thinks he or she was acting in self defense, but that the perception is unreasonable," Epstein says.

Judge Debra Nelson ruled Wednesday that the jury could also consider a charge of manslaughter in its deliberations, although Zimmerman had only been charged with second-degree murder. The change could be an indication that the prosecution felt its case had been weakened and was not confident in its chances of succeeding with a second-degree murder conviction, and therefore pushed for the lesser charge to be considered, Epstein says.

Jurors could see manslaughter as a middle ground of sorts, according to Epstein.

"If I don't want to let him off, but don't want to give him the bad one, here's a compromise," Epstein says.

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