SANFORD, Florida (USA TODAY) -- The judge in the Trayvon Martin murder case agreed
Thursday to instruct jurors to consider the lesser charge of
manslaughter when they begin deliberations.
George Zimmerman had been charged only with second-degree murder.
attorneys had objected to adding any lesser charges, and Judge Debra
Nelson held a hearing on the issue. The jury still has the option of
convicting Zimmerman, 29, of the second-degree murder charge that
prosecutors sought when the trial began.
maneuvering has been seen by some legal experts as an indication that
prosecutors were not confident about their chances for a second-degree
murder conviction. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, has been
portrayed by prosecutors as a wanna-be cop who shot Trayvon, who is
black, after a confrontation in a gated residential community in
"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.
says he acted in self-defense after the 17-year-old sucker-punched him
and began beating him. Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, says that race did
not factor into his actions.
Second-degree murder in Florida
carries a possible life sentence. If convicted of manslaughter,
Zimmerman could get up to 30 years. Aggravated assault would carry no
more than a five-year prison term.
Prosecutors have maintained that Zimmerman profiled Trayvon and assumed the unarmed teen was a threat to his community.
Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, said he will argue against the lesser charges being considered.
is self-defense," O'Mara said. "What happened out there was not a
crime, so in that context there shouldn't have been" any charges.
state was scheduled to present closing statements for two hours
Thursday at 1 p.m. ET. Zimmerman's attorneys get three hours for their
closing Friday. The state will then get one hour to present rebuttal
The jury will likely begin deliberations Friday.