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Trayvon murder trial: Jury asked to consider lesser charges

IN COURT: George Zimmerman, right, with attorney Don West, is sworn in before declining to take the stand and testify during his trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla. yesterday (July 10)

THE JUDGE in the murder trial of a man who shot dead an innocent teenager will decide today (July 11) if she will grant a prosecution request to allow the jury to consider lesser charges, including aggravated assault.

Self-styled neighbourhood watchman George Zimmerman fatally wounded 17-year-old Trayvon Martin as he made his way home in the gated community of Sanford, Florida on February 26 last year.

State prosecutors are asking the judge to instruct the jury to consider the lesser charges of manslaughter and aggravated assault when they begin deliberations tomorrow (July 12).

Zimmerman's attorneys have objected, and Judge Debra Nelson will hold a hearing today to decide whether jurors should consider the new charges. The jury would still have the option of convicting Zimmerman of the second-degree murder charge that prosecutors sought when the trial began.

KILLED: Trayvon Martin

The 29-year-old, who reportedly sat motionless throughout the four-day trial, says he acted in self-defense after Trayvon punched him and began beating him.

Zimmerman remained free for more than six weeks after killing Martin because Sanford police initially declined to arrest him, accepting his claim he shot and killed Martin in self-defence.

Lawyers for George Zimmerman rested their case on Wednesday (July 10) without calling him to testify.

"After consulting with counsel, [I have decided] not to testify, your honour," Zimmerman said in response to questions from Judge Nelson.

The shooting in the central Florida town sparked protests and controversy throughout much of last year as it raised questions about racial profiling, guns and bias in US law enforcement.

Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, faces up to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. The judge said on Wednesday that prosecutors requested that the jury also consider the lesser offense of manslaughter, with a maximum penalty of 30 years.

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