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Second-Degree Murder Charge in Trayvon Martin Killing Poses Hurdles for Prosecutors

Posted Apr 12, 2012 7:57 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Prosecutors may have a difficult road ahead in their second-degree murder case against George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer accused of following and shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Legal observers told CBS/AP and the New York Times that, based on the evidence made public so far, they are surprised by the charge. Second-degree murder in Florida requires proof that a defendant demonstrated “a depraved mind without regard for human life.”

The expectation was that special prosecutor Angela Corey would charge Zimmerman with manslaughter, which applies to situations in which a defendant sincerely but unreasonably believes he needed to kill to defend himself.

“Prosecutors face steep hurdles,” the CBS/AP story says. “They will have to prove Zimmerman intentionally went after Martin instead of shooting him in self-defense, refute arguments that a Florida law empowered him to use deadly force and get past a judge's ruling at a pretrial hearing.”

Zimmerman’s new lawyer, Mark O'Mara, plans to argue his client is protected from prosecution by Florida’s stand your ground law. Zimmerman has said Martin punched him, knocked him down, and banged his head on the sidewalk.

Prosecutors or the defense could ask a judge to allow jurors to consider the lesser offense of manslaughter. The tougher charge could also be a negotiating tool in plea negotiations, observers said.

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Zimmerman Charged with 2nd-Degree Murder in Trayvon Martin Slaying, Is In Custody"

ABAJournal.com: "Justice Department to Investigate Death of Fla. Teen; Does ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law Protect Shooter?"

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