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July 15, 2013

Jury instructions at center of Zimmerman verdict

(Continued)

"Beyond a reasonable doubt" is the highest standard of proof prosecutors face in American criminal courts. It means the jurors believe there is no other logical explanation for what happened than the defendant is guilty. If faced with two plausible explanations for what happened, jurors are supposed to acquit.

"The danger facing George Zimmerman need not have been actual; however, to justify the use of deadly force, the appearance must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person ... would have believed the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force," the instruction read.

Jurors refused to talk to reporters after the verdict about how they reached their decision Saturday night. Their names are being kept secret until Judge Debra Nelson lifts an order protecting their identities.

After the verdict, Jacksonville State Attorney Angela Corey said the use of deadly force is often one of the toughest areas of the law for prosecutors. Gov. Rick Scott appointed her office to the case a few weeks after the shooting when local prosecutors didn't press charges.

She said that when a victim shoots a robber or rapist, the use of deadly force is clearly justifiable. In cases such as Zimmerman's, the lines get blurry.

"That's why this case was unique, in a sense, and that's why this case was difficult," she said.

Even defense attorneys, who use the law to their advantage, say the instruction for the justifiable use of deadly force can be confusing to jurors since there are so many elements to it. It's one of the longest instructions given jurors.

"The more complex the instruction, the more it benefits the defense," said Blaine McChesney, an Orlando defense attorney and former prosecutor with no connection to the Zimmerman case. "It's a very convoluted instruction, but it's the best they have."

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