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George Zimmerman trial: Jury may consider lesser charge of manslaughter, judge rules

Rachel, George Zimmerman Trial
George Zimmerman, right, greets one of his defense attorneys, Don West, during his trial in Seminole circuit court, Friday, July 5, 2013 in Sanford, Fla. AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Gary W. Green, Pool

(CBS/AP) SANFORD, Fla. -- A jury will consider a lesser charge of manslaughter as well as a second-degree murder charge against accused murderer George Zimmerman, a judge has ruled. But a request by prosecutors for the jury to also consider a lesser charge of third-degree felony murder - an offense that includes the commission of child abuse - drew heated opposition from the defense.

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Defense attorney Don West called the possible lesser charge of third-degree felony murder "outrageous" and a "trick" by the state. He said prosecutors asked for the inclusion at the last minute.

"Just when I thought this case couldn't get any more bizarre, the state is seeking third-degree felony murder based on child abuse?" West said.

The offense of third-degree felony murder would be premised on the idea that Zimmerman committed child abuse since 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was underage when he was fatally shot. Prosecutors said they will not pursue the lesser charge of aggravated assault, as they initially indicated.

Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer, is charged in the shooting death of the Florida teen.

Circuit Judge Debra Nelson made the ruling on the manslaughter lesser included offense during a hearing Thursday morning outside of the presence of the jury as attorneys hashed out jury instructions. She deferred ruling on the third-degree felony murder lesser charge after West argued he needed more time to prepare.

The panel of six women will return at 1 p.m. to hear closing arguments from the prosecution. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys have rested their cases, and testimony spanned about two and a half weeks.

The defense wanted the jury to only consider the second-degree murder charge Zimmerman faces as well as a not guilty verdict, and not lesser included offenses.

"[Zimmerman's] position is the state has charged him with second-degree murder, they should be required to prove it," West said." If they can't prove it, that's a failure of the prosecution."

Complete coverage of the George Zimmerman Trial-Trayvon Martin case on Crimesider

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