As the George Zimmerman trial in Florida nears its conclusion, Judge Debra Nelson made a potentially crucial ruling that will allow the jury to consider convicting Zimmerman of manslaughter if it concludes the prosecution has not proved him guilty of the original charge of second-degree murder. Prosecution efforts to allow alternative convictions for third-degree murder or (at the other end of the spectrum) aggravated assault have not, so far, been approved by Judge Nelson.

Her decision, which defense attorneys adamantly opposed, reduces the likelihood of acquittal for Zimmerman in a case that has largely revolved around he-said she-said testimony about whether Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin was the “aggressor” in the confrontation that indisputably ended with Zimmerman shooting Martin to death. Some advocates for Martin, of course, might be angered by anything less than a murder conviction. But since manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 30 years, it would hardly represent a slap on the wrist, much less a vindication, for Zimmerman.

In any event, Martin’s family has been reasonably clear in asking their son’s many supporters to accept whatever the jurors decide:

“It is very emotional for the parents to get this far on their journey to justice and then to have such a difficult time sitting through the trial,” [Martin family attorney Benjamin] Crump said on PoliticsNation. “But everyday they pray and they just have faith that everything is going to be all right.”

“They have always prayed and asked for peaceful justice,” he added later. “And they want everybody to follow their example, because if they can accept the rule of law, then everybody should be able to.”

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.