So the state of Florida convinced the judge to allow them to add manslaughter to the charges against George Zimmerman. Bear in mind that this was always an option; as a lesser included offense, the charge of manslaughter can always be added into a murder trial at the judge’s discretion. In fact, in trials where capital punishment is possible, the jury must be instructed to consider the lesser charge.
Aside from “I told you so”, my thoughts on the matter are as follows:
For the prosecution, it makes their case look weak. It smacks of desperation, a knowledge that they overreached when they went for second-degree murder, and are now scrambling to find something for the jury to convict him of. Though their attempt to add third-degree murder to the charges on the grounds that Zimmerman was committing child abuse would tend to indicate that desperation might be exactly what the state is feeling.
From Zimmerman’s perspective, the judge allowing the addition of the charge must be a nightmare. It seems unlikely that the state’s argument would have swayed the jury sufficiently to lead to a murder conviction, but by introducing manslaughter into the mix, they’re offering the jury that third option.
The option to, in effect, say that they agree with neither the state in arguing that Zimmerman was a murderer, nor the defense in arguing that Zimmerman acted in self-defense. The option to convict Zimmerman of a lesser offense, what they could perceive as a compromise verdict. And while compromise might be said to be an agreement where no party is happy, the reality is that in this case a manslaughter conviction would suit the state’s purposes well enough, and the defendant’s not at all. It’s a false perception.
The odd twist on this situation is that if the jury believes Zimmerman’s defense, then the manslaughter charge is irrelevant. There are no gradients of self-defense in Florida law; either Zimmerman acted in self-defense, or Zimmerman is a murderer. He cannot commit the crime of murder while acting in self-defense.
That, then, is what the jury’s verdict ought to hinge on, and where the issues of tacking the charge on in the 11th hour are raised. The state’s argument, after all, has been that Zimmerman was a hateful racist, driven to stalk, assault, and murder Trayvon Martin in a fit of rage.
How well will that mesh with a manslaughter conviction, where the crime is not one of passion, but one of incompetence? Is Zimmerman a fiend, or a fool?
The latter would have been easier to prove from the beginning, but the state hasn’t made many efforts in that direction. To portray him as a bumbling idiot, after all, would have undermined their case. Indeed, the state has gone to some length to portray Zimmerman as a cynical manipulator of the law, using his knowledge of self-defense legislation to get away with murder.
I have to wonder if the state’s efforts to prove murder might in fact undermine a manslaughter conviction.
Only time will tell.