Published June 28, 2013
| Associated Press
SANFORD, Fla. – In testy exchanges, George Zimmerman's defense attorney insinuated that the young woman who was on the phone with Trayvon Martin shortly before he was fatally shot was not believable because of inconsistencies in her story.
But 19-year-old Rachel Jeantel held firm in her testimony about what she heard over the phone while talking with Martin the night the unarmed teen was shot and killed by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer.
Testimony in the case was entering its fifth day Friday with jurors having already been exposed to some of the state's biggest pieces of evidence, including the 911 call featuring cries for help prosecutors believe came from Martin, as well as the sound of the gunshot moments later which killed him.
In her testimony, Jeantel contended that it was Zimmerman who confronted Martin. Zimmerman, who claims the shooting was in self-defense, has said he opened fire only after the 17-year-old jumped him and began slamming his head against the concrete sidewalk.
"We're in the middle of it," defense attorney Mark O'Mara said. "They've got a lot more to show. These things build up slow, and it's sort of like pieces of a puzzle. People say, 'wait a minute, I can't see the picture yet.' They're very good prosecutors, they're gonna do very good job, and they're gonna put on their evidence. We'll see how it goes. We're certainly ready to respond to it."
During Jeantel's testimony, O'Mara's co-counsel Don West insisted Thursday that Martin injected race into the confrontation. Jeantel has said Martin told her he was being followed by a "creepy-ass cracker" — implying Martin was being followed by a white man because of his race.
Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic. Race has permeated nationwide discussions of the case since the February 2012 shooting, which prompted nationwide protests and claims from critics that police took too long to arrest Zimmerman.
West also zeroed in on slight differences among three different accounts of what happened before Martin's killing, in an apparent effort to discredit her. Jeantel has described what she heard over the phone in a deposition; a letter to Martin's mother; and an interview with the Martin family attorney. Among the differences highlighted by West:
— In some accounts, she said race was an issue but not in others.
— Jeantel testified Wednesday that her friend's last words were "Get off! Get off!" before Martin's phone went silent. But on Thursday, under cross-examination, she conceded that she hadn't mentioned that in her account of what happened to Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton. She had left out some details to spare Fulton's feelings, and also because neither Fulton nor the Martin family attorney asked her directly about them, Jeantel said.
— After Martin asks why he is being followed, Zimmerman responds, "What are you doing around here?" in one account by Jeantel. In another account, according to West, she says Zimmerman said, "What are you talking about?"
Zimmerman, 29, could get life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. Zimmerman followed Martin in his truck and called a police dispatch number before he and the teen got into a fight.
Zimmerman has denied the confrontation had anything to do with race, as Martin's family and their supporters have claimed.
Jeantel testified Thursday that she thought race was an issue because Martin told her he was being followed by a white man.
But West responded, "It was racial because Trayvon put race in this?"
She answered no.
The exchanges got testier as the day progressed.
When asked by West if she had previously told investigators that she heard what sounded like somebody being hit at the end of her call with Martin, Jeantel said, "Trayvon got hit."
"You don't know that? Do you? You don't know that Trayvon got hit," West answered angrily. "You don't know that Trayvon didn't at that moment take his fists and drive them into George Zimmerman's face."
Later in the morning, West accused Jeantel of not calling police after Martin's phone went dead because she thought it was a fight he had provoked.
"That's why you weren't worried. That's why you didn't do anything because Trayvon Martin started the fight, and you knew that," West said.
"No sir!" Jeantel said. "I don't know what you're talking about."
At one point, West handed her a letter she had written with the help of a friend to Martin's mother explaining what happened. She looked at it but then said she couldn't read cursive handwriting. Jeantel later explained she is of Haitian descent and grew up speaking Creole and Spanish.
After Jeantel left the witness stand, a mobile phone manager testified about Martin's cell phone records and a former neighbor of Zimmerman testified she heard yelps for help outside her townhome on the night Martin was shot. Jenna Lauer said she couldn't tell who was screaming.
"They were being hurt," Lauer said, describing the person screaming.
Before court recessed for the day, O'Mara asked another former neighbor to recreate for jurors how she reacted when she heard what turned out to be a gunshot and ran out of her town-house to see what was going on. The request had Selma Mora in the unusual position of standing up from the witness stand and pretending to be in her kitchen in front of the judge's bench.
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