Judgement time for Zimmerman

The jury in the George Zimmerman trial has gone out, and we are now waiting to see whether he will be convicted of 2nd degree murder, manslaughter, or walk free.

A late-breaking development in the trial was the addition of the option of a manslaughter verdict, much to the distaste of defense attorney Don West:

West said he wanted the six jurors to only consider the second-degree murder charge or not guilty.
"The state has charged him with second degree murder. They should be required to prove it," West said. "If they had wanted to charge him with manslaughter … they could do that."
I'm in sympathy with West on this point. It does sound to me as if the prosecution felt that it hadn't got 2nd degree murder in the bag - there are bags of reasonable doubt in several areas of the case - and so wants to give the jury a "get-out" option of "guilty, kinda" in the hope that the defects in their case aren't gaping enough to prevent what could feel like a compromise verdict.

Calling which way this trial will go is essentially guesswork. I'm reasonably confident that he'll duck the 2nd degree murder charge - if the prosecution felt that they'd proven the charge, it seems unlikely that they'd had pushed for alternate charges - but between manslaughter and "not guilty" is too close to call. In fact, a hung jury is well within the possibilities. Then what? I wouldn't be surprised if an initial push for a retrial sputters out.

Zimmerman's guilt or otherwise is being judged by six women. The jury is mostly white, and most of them are mothers. Mothers may sympathise with Trayvon Martin's mother who lost a son, and want to blame someone for it, but alternatively may view Zimmerman as doing his best to protect the neighbourhood. In one sense it's a tough case to judge as it comes down to who was heard screaming - was it Trayvon, in which case Zimmerman must have attacked him, or was it Zimmerman being attacked by Trayvon, in which case it's self-defence? From where I'm sitting, a strict interpretation of "reasonable doubt" can't possibly convict Zimmerman based on the circumstantial evidence, hearsay and contradicting witnesses, but then I haven't been locked in the courtroom for weeks.

Incidentally, if the jury does go for manslaughter, I give the defense an excellent chance of having it reversed on appeal; the judge may have been leaning over backwards to give the prosecution additional options in order to prevent civil disturbances and uncomfortable fallout, but her job is to ensure a fair trial, not safeguard her popularity.

I do feel confident in predicting that even if Zimmerman is found "not guilty" then things are not going to get any easier for him.

Update: the instructions to the Zimmerman jury provide an interesting read. The judge is requiring a unanimous verdict from the 6 jurors, which makes a hung jury far more likely. Also, given the instructions about reliability of witnesses, I'd be extremely surprised at a 2nd degree murder verdict.

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