Zimmerman-manslaughter: Judge Nelson rules jury will be instructed they can find Zimmerman guilty of less charge.

Zimmerman Jury Will Have a Third Option

Zimmerman Jury Will Have a Third Option

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July 11 2013 1:45 PM

Zimmerman Could Still Spend Decades in Jail Even If He's Not Convicted of Murder

Standing next to his attorney Don West, George Zimmerman is sworn by Judge Debra Nelson during his trial in Seminole circuit court on July 10, 2013

Photo by Gary W. Green-Pool/Getty Images

The defense and prosecution in the George Zimmerman murder trial are done hashing out the nitty-gritty specifics of the instructions that will be read to the jury before they begin deliberations. The big takeaway from today: The jurors will have a third option when it comes to Zimmerman's fate. Reuters:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.

Jurors in the George Zimmerman murder trial will be told they can potentially convict him for the lesser charge of manslaughter for the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, a Florida judge said on Thursday. ... The decision on the instructions that will be given to the panel of six woman jurors was announced by Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, as lawyers for the defense and prosecution argued in a hearing closed to the jury about the instruction they will be given in the closely-watched case.

Given the growing consensus among court watchers that the state hasn't done enough to prove Zimmerman is guilty of second-degree murder, this morning's decision was a win for the prosecution because it raises the possibility that a skeptical jury could still send Zimmerman to prison for a significant stretch of time. (A second-degree murder charge comes with the possibility of life. The manslaughter charge, meanwhile, brings with it a maximum penalty of 30 years.)

The prosecution was also hoping the judge would agree to add another option: third-degree murder, a charge premised on the idea that Zimmerman committed child abuse since Martin was underage when he was killed. But Nelson, after several hours of thinking about it, ultimately rejected that request.

Closing arguments began this afternoon. The jury could begin deliberations as soon as Friday.

This post has been updated with additional information as it became available.