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Zimmerman Jury Can Consider Lesser Charge, Judge Says

The jury weighing the guilt or innocence of the man accused in the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin can consider convicting George Zimmerman on a lesser charge of manslaughter, the judge ruled Thursday morning.

Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to the charge of second-degree murder and his trial is wrapping up. It's expected that the jury will begin debating his fate on Friday.

Trayvon, 17, was killed on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman, a self-styled neighborhood watch volunteer, says he acted in self defense. Trayvon's family and supporters say Zimmerman, now 29, racially profiled the young African-American and should not have been following the unarmed teen. The case ignited a national debate after Trayvon's family called for Zimmerman's arrest and accused local authorities of not properly investigating the young man's death.

In addition to asking Judge Debra Nelson to instruct the jurors that they can consider a manslaughter charge, prosecutors also asked that jurors be told they can consider a third-degree murder charge — based on the theory that Zimmerman allegedly committed child abuse when Trayvon was killed.

As NPR's Greg Allen reports from Sanford, defense lawyer Donald West objected strongly to the suggestion that a third-degree murder charge be included in the instructions for the jury. West called the prosecution's suggest a "trick" and said that "just when I thought this case couldn't get more bizarre," it did.

Judge Nelson said she would consider the request about a third-degree murder charge later in the day.

Update at 1:10 p.m. ET. No Third-Degree Murder Instruction:

Judge Nelson just told the prosecution and defense that she will not instruct the jury to consider the option of third-degree murder.

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