George Zimmerman murder case goes to jury

SANFORD, Fla. - BREAKING NEWS ALERT:  

8:28 Update:  Jurors are back from dinner and back deliberating.

Earlier Tonight:

Jurors in the George Zimmerman trial have a question about the charge of manslaughter.

The jurors sent the judge a note asking for clarification on the charge after deliberating for about eight hours Saturday.

The six female jurors began deliberating Friday afternoon on whether Zimmerman committed a crime when he fatally shot Trayvon Martin.

Jurors have the option of considering manslaughter.

Click here for a photo gallery from week 3 or follow this link: http://wfts.tv/1dqufEi

Click here for a photo gallery from week two or follow this link:  http://bit.ly/17R0MWH

Click here for a photo gallery from week one or follow this link:  http://bit.ly/14ZMMW

Zimmerman Family Statement:

"From the onset of this tragic event our family has been clear to express our trust in the judicial system.  A jury of one's peers is the hallmark of our country's judicial system. 

The American justice system is the finest in the world. George's fate is now in the hands of the jury, who will make their decision based on evidence and the facts of the case. 

As we await a verdict we will remain hopeful and ask for the public to remain peaceful, no matter the outcome. 

Though we maintain George committed no crime whatsoever, we acknowledge that the people who called for George's arrest and subsequent trial have now witnessed both events come to pass. 

We hope now that as Americans we will all respect the rule of law, which begins with respecting the verdict. 

The judicial system has run its course - pray for justice, pray for peace, pray for our country."

In-Depth Coverage:

On Friday, George Zimmerman's lawyers put a concrete slab and two life-size cardboard cutouts in front of the jury box in one last attempt to convince the panel the neighborhood watch volunteer shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense.


The jury in the murder case began deliberations at 2:30pm after receiving dueling portraits of Zimmerman: a wannabe cop who took the law into his own hands, or a well-meaning volunteer who feared for his life in a struggle with a teenager who was slamming his head into the pavement.

Attorney Mark O'Mara used a concrete slab to make the point that it could be used as a weapon. He also used cardboard cutouts of Zimmerman and Martin to demonstrate that the teenager was considerably taller. He also showed a computer-animated depiction of the fight based on Zimmerman's account.

He said that prosecutors hadn't met their burden of proving Zimmerman's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, he said, the murder case was built on "could've beens" and "maybes."

"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."

In a rebuttal, prosecutor John Guy accused Zimmerman of telling "so many lies." He said Martin's last emotion was one of fear as Zimmerman followed him in a neighborhood of townhomes on a rainy night Feb. 26, 2012.

"Isn't that every child's worst nightmare, to be followed on the way home in the dark by a stranger?" Guy said. "Isn't that every child's worst fear?"

One juror, a young woman, appeared to wipe away a tear as Guy said nothing would ever bring back Martin.

The jury of six women will have to sort through a lot conflicting testimony from police, neighbors, friends and family members. Witnesses gave differing accounts of who was on top during the struggle, and Martin's parents and Zimmerman's parents both claimed that the voice heard screaming for help in the background of a 911 call was their son's.

Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder, but the jury will also be allowed to consider manslaughter. Under Florida's laws involving gun crimes, manslaughter could end up carrying a penalty as heavy as the one for second-degree murder: life in prison.

Allowing the jurors to consider manslaughter could give those who aren't convinced the shooting amounted to murder a way to hold Zimmerman responsible for the death of the unarmed teen.

To get a manslaughter conviction, prosecutors must show only that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification.

O'Mara dismissed the prosecution's contention that Zimmerman was a "crazy guy" patrolling his townhouse complex and "looking for people to harass" when he saw Martin, an unarmed black teenager. O'Mara also disputed prosecutors' claim that Zimmerman snapped when he saw Martin because there had been a rash of break-ins in the neighborhood, mostly by young black men.

The defense attorney said Zimmerman at no point showed ill

will, hate or spite during his confrontation with Martin -- which is what prosecutors must prove for second-degree murder.

"That presumption isn't based on any fact whatsoever," O'Mara said.

In contrast, prosecutors argued Zimmerman showed ill will when he whispered profanities to a police dispatcher over his cellphone while following Martin through the neighborhood. They said Zimmerman "profiled" the teenager as a criminal.

Guy said Zimmerman violated the cornerstone of neighborhood watch volunteer programs, which is to observe and report, not follow a suspect.

Zimmerman's account of how he grabbed his gun from his holster at his waist as Martin straddled him is physically impossible, Guy said.

"The defendant didn't shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to, he shot him because he wanted to," Guy said. "That's the bottom line."

But to invoke self-defense, Zimmerman only had to believe he was facing great bodily harm, his attorney said. He asked jurors not to let their sympathies for Martin's parents interfere with their decision.

"It is a tragedy, truly," O'Mara said. "But you can't allow sympathy."

With the verdict drawing near, police and city leaders in Sanford and other parts of Florida said they have taken precautions for the possibility of mass protests or even civil unrest if Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, is acquitted.

There were big protests in Sanford and other cities across the country last year when authorities waited 44 days before arresting Zimmerman.

Guy told the jury the case wasn't about race.

"It's about right and wrong," he said. "It's that simple."

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   Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://twitter.com/khightower.

   Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP
 

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