After around ten hours of deliberation, the George Zimmerman jury has asked a question: “May we please have clarification on instructions regarding manslaughter?” In general, courts don’t answer questions of this sort; they simply refer the jury back to the instruction that has already been given.
Should anything be inferred from the jury’s question? Probably not: I’ve learned over the years that most of the time, you can’t conclude anything in particular from jury questions. But you can always speculate: after electing a foreperson and reviewing the evidence, the jury likely would have begun by discussing whether they can find Zimmerman guilty of second degree murder. If the answer to that question were “Yes,” there would be no need to move on to manslaughter. This is the first part of the verdict form:
So very possibly, if the jury is now looking seriously at manslaughter, they may have decided to acquit on second-degree murder. But that is just speculation.
Manslaughter is a lesser included offense, but there is not much reason, in this case, why a jury should find Zimmerman guilty of manslaughter but not second degree murder. The difference is one of state of mind, but Zimmerman has always claimed self-defense, which is equally a defense to second degree murder and manslaughter.
Most likely the jury is simply being methodical. Its first request was for a listing of all the exhibits that were in evidence. Despite having been sequestered, the jurors no doubt have some sense of how much attention is being paid to the case (i.e., a ridiculous amount). My guess is that they are simply taking their time and discussing everything thoroughly. If they review the evidence carefully, take the court’s instructions seriously, and render an honest verdict, it just about has to be not guilty. The only caveat is that the glare of publicity that surrounds a case of this sort is capable of distorting reality.
UPDATE: It seems obvious that the court couldn’t respond to the jury’s question as framed, even if it were willing in principle. So the prosecution is arguing that the court should go back to the jury and ask it to be more specific in its request for clarification. In my experience, it would be extremely unorthodox–to say the least–for a judge to get into this sort of a colloquy with a jury. Things might be different in a Florida state court, but I doubt it.
FURTHER UPDATE: Somewhat to my amazement, the court responded to the jury’s question with a note that said something like, “The court cannot engage in general discussions, but may be able to address a specific question.” So everyone is hanging around the courtroom, waiting to see what, if anything, the jury comes back with. This is, in my opinion, highly irregular. Further, the jury has ordered dinner, so there is speculation that they may be closing in on a verdict and intend to finish tonight.
MORE: Andrew Branca, who has attended the trial throughout and covered the proceedings for Legal Insurrection, is outraged. He tweets:
No conviction here will withstand appeal, as there were repeated, gross, and malicious violations of GZ’s due process rights.
Let’s hope it doesn’t get that far.
MORE: A few minutes ago, Branca tweeted:
There WERE honorable people involved in this case–they were just all displaced by dishonorable people.
That is exactly correct. The local authorities decided that there was no justification for charging Zimmerman with anything because all of the evidence supported his claim of self-defense. So, after political agitation from our gangster president on down, the police chief and the prosecutor were replaced, and the new politically-appointed special prosecutor naturally brought charges. This prosecution has been 100% political from the beginning.