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Prosecution wraps up closing arguments; Zimmerman's defense to go Friday

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SANFORD, Fla. - The prosecution on Thursday presented its closing arguments to the jury in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial.

The defense will present its closing arguments Friday at 8:30 a.m., followed by rebuttal from the prosecution. The case will then go to the jury.

The state wants the jury to find Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder, which is an act of ill will, hatred or spite; or manslaughter, which is a death resulting from reckless disregard for human life.

A conviction on either charge could send Zimmerman to prison for life.

During its closing arguments, the prosecution told jurors that Zimmerman profiled 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, assuming he was up to no good and that it led to the shooting death of the teenager.

"A teenager is dead. He is dead through no fault of his own," prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda told jurors. "He is dead because a man made assumptions ... Unfortunately because his assumptions were wrong, Trayvon Benjamin Martin no longer walks this earth."



De la Rionda told the jury Zimmerman wanted to be a police officer, and that's why he followed Martin through his Sanford neighborhood, even though the teen wasn't doing anything wrong.

"He assumed Trayvon Martin was a criminal. That is why we are here," said de la Rionda.

De la Rionda used Zimmerman's own words in interviews with both police and national media to try to prove Zimmerman followed Martin and then killed him.

De la Rionda demonstrated with sarcasm how Zimmerman told Fox News host Sean Hannity that Martin had skipped away from him while Zimmerman was on the phone with police.

The state also focused on the variations in Zimmerman's story between his recorded statement that night and his reenactment the next day.

The state called Zimmerman "a wannabe cop," then criticized him for not introducing himself to the teenager he found suspicious, offering him a ride or confronting him.

"I ask you to come back with a verdict that speaks the truth, a verdict that is just," said de la Rionda as he wrapped up prosecution's closing argument.

Zimmerman shook his head when de la Rionda told the jury to find him guilty.

"If you return a verdict of guilty, it should be for the highest offense, which has been proven," said de la Rionda.

WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said de la Rionda raised more questions than he answered during closing statements.

"This was the state's only opportunity to use the facts to prove the case beyond every reasonable doubt, and they failed miserably," said Sheaffer.

Closing arguments began after Judge Debra Nelson ruled jurors can consider the lesser charge of manslaughter, in addition to second-degree murder. But she denied a request for the jury to also consider third-degree murder, after a defense attorney called the proposal outrageous.

Prosecutor Richard Mantei argued that instructions for third-degree murder should be included on the premise that Zimmerman committed child abuse when he fatally shot Martin because Martin was underage.

But defense attorney Don West called the proposed instruction a trick, and he accused the prosecutor of springing it on the defense at the last minute.

"Just when I didn't think this case could get any more bizarre, the state is alleging child abuse?" West said. "This is outrageous. It's outrageous the state would seek to do this at this time."

Nelson denied the third-degree murder instruction, saying she was exercising caution since she was unsure if prosecutors could prove intent.

"I just don't think the evidence supports that," Nelson said.

The judge, however, agreed with the prosecution that jurors could consider manslaughter as a lesser charge.

West said he wanted the six jurors to only consider the second-degree murder charge or not guilty.

"The state has charged him with second-degree murder. They should be required to prove it," West said. "If they had wanted to charge him with manslaughter ... they could do that."

Jurors could begin deliberating as early as Friday.

Prosecutors were expected to give closing arguments Thursday afternoon, followed by the defense closing on Friday morning.

Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. On the night of the fatal scuffle in February 2012, Martin was visiting his father and his father's fiancee at the same townhome complex where Zimmerman lived.

Zimmerman observed Martin while driving in his neighborhood, called police and the fight ensued after the neighborhood watch volunteer got out of his vehicle. Zimmerman claims Martin was slamming his head into the concrete pavement when he fired his gun.