Zimmerman not guilty in Martin death

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(CNN) – George Zimmerman is not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin, a Florida jury decided late Saturday.

The fact that Zimmerman fired the bullet that killed Martin was never in question, but the verdict means the six-person jury had reasonable doubt that the shooting amounted to a criminal act.

The verdict caps a case that has inflamed passions for well over a year, much of it focused on race and gun rights.

The six-person jury — all women — basically had three choices: to find Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder; to find him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter; or to find him not guilty.

The jurors deliberated for 16½ hours total, including 13 on Saturday alone, before delivering its verdict.

Zimmerman smiled and then shook his lawyer’s hands when he learned his fate. His parents, Robert and Gladys Zimmerman, were seated nearby, but Martin’s parents were not in the courtroom.

Earlier in the day, the jury had asked the court for clarification on its instructions regarding manslaughter. The jury couldn’t have even posed such a query a few days ago: Judge Nelson ruled Thursday, over the defense’s vehement objection, to include manslaughter as an option for jurors, in addition to a second-degree murder charge.

The question — the jurors’ first since late Friday afternoon, when they requested an inventory of evidence — was read out in court shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday. After a brief discussion between lawyers and the judge, the court recessed for about 40 minutes.

When it reconvened, shortly before the judge announced the jury had ordered dinner, prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed to a response to the jury’s question — basically asking for more detail. “The court cannot engage in general discussions but may be able to address a specific question regarding clarification of the instructions regarding manslaughter,” their response to the jury says. “If you have a specific question, please submit it.”

Manslaughter, under Florida law, is “the killing of a human being by the act … of another, without lawful justification … and in cases in which such killing shall not be excusable homicide or murder.” It is a second-degree felony.

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