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The Two-Way
5:40 am
Thu April 12, 2012

Prosecution's Choice Of Charge Complicates Case Against Zimmerman

By charging George Zimmerman with second-degree murder rather than manslaughter, prosecutors have chosen a path that presents them with some steep legal hurdles, experts tell The Associated Press.

According to the wire service, prosecutors will "have to prove Zimmerman intentionally went after Trayvon 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."

And:

"Prosecutors must prove Zimmerman's shooting of Martin was rooted in hatred or ill will and counter his claims that he shot Martin to protect himself while patrolling his gated community in the Orlando suburb of Sanford. Zimmerman's lawyers would only have to prove by a preponderance of evidence — a relatively low legal standard — that he acted in self-defense at a pretrial hearing to prevent the case from going to trial."

Florida defense attorney Richard Hornsby tells the wire service that there is a "high likelihood [the charge] could be dismissed by the judge even before the jury gets to hear the case."

On the PBS NewsHour last evening, Florida attorney Jeffrey Weiner said that to convict Zimmerman on the second-degree murder charge prosecutors will "have to show that he had really a depraved mind. In other words, he didn't plan this ahead of time. It wasn't premeditated, but it was as reckless and wanton behavior as could possibly have taken place short of premeditation."

"The proof is certainly more than what is required for manslaughter," he said.

The Orlando Sentinel adds that according to defense attorney Patricia Cashman:

" 'A second-degree charge is generally thought of as a heat-of-passion thing' ... as opposed to a premeditated killing. Often, it's the result of 'an argument that ends in a death.' ... However, under Florida law, a manslaughter charge requires only 'culpable negligence' on the defendant's behalf. Second-degree murder, the law says, results from 'an act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life.' "

Florida State Attorney Angela Corey, who is the special prosecutor in the case, declined Wednesday to offer details about how she arrived at the second-degree murder charge rather than manslaughter.

Zimmerman, 28, shot and killed 17-year-old Martin on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman has told police he acted in self defense. Martin's family and supporters believe Zimmerman racially profiled the black teenager. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, had called police to say that a "suspicious" young man was walking around the area. Martin, according to police reports, was unarmed.

The case has rekindled a national discussion about race relations and has led to marches and rallies in cities across the nation by people calling for Zimmerman to be brought to justice.

Zimmerman, who turned himself into authorities Wednesday, is due at a court hearing in Sanford this afternoon. His attorney says Zimmerman will plead not guilty.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.