Testimony in the murder trial of George Zimmerman turned increasingly testy Thursday as a friend of Zimmerman’s victim, Trayvon Martin, pushed back against defense suggestions she had altered her story to suit the prosecution and make it seem as if the defendant -- not Martin -- was the aggressor.
“That’s real retarded, sir,” the witness, Rachel Jeantel, 19, said at one point during her cross-examination by defense attorney Don West.
Jeantel took the stand as court resumed at 9 a.m., after having spent about 90 minutes testifying Wednesday. She resumed testifying after an hourlong lunch break Thursday.
The Miami woman’s testimony is crucial because she was the last person to speak with Martin before he encountered Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., on the evening of Feb. 26, 2012.
Jeantel was on a cellphone call with Martin, 17, when he and Zimmerman crossed paths. The encounter ended with Zimmerman shooting Martin to death and claiming self-defense. He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.
West spent much of Thursday morning’s court session reviewing a deposition that Jeantel gave to chief prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda on April 2, 2012. She told de la Rionda that day that she heard on the phone a noise “like something hitting somebody.”
In court Thursday, when West asked her if she recalled saying that, Jeantel replied that she did, and then added: “Trayvon got hit.”
West responded: “You don’t know that Trayvon got hit. You don’t know that Trayvon at that moment didn’t take his fist and drive it into George Zimmerman’s face, do you?”
“No sir,” Jeantel replied.
West then questioned why Jeantel had told de la Rionda that she also heard Martin on the phone saying “get off,” and why she had not mentioned this during a meeting with Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and the Martin family attorney, Benjamin Crump, about three weeks earlier.
“Nobody asked me,” said Jeantel, who has described herself as a close friend of Martin but who also says she never alerted police or his family after hearing what she thought was a scuffle. She called Martin back and texted him, but she did not receive a reply.
West suggested that the reason she was not concerned was because she knew that Martin planned to confront Zimmerman.
“It was just a fight Trayvon Martin started. That’s why you weren’t worried,” West said.
“No, sir,” Jeantel said.
Prosecutors allege it was Zimmerman who confronted Martin, sparking a confrontation that left Martin fatally wounded with a bullet to his chest. They have accused Zimmerman of racially profiling Martin, who was black.
Jeantel has not wavered from her statements that Martin became edgy during their phone call as he described a “creepy” man following him. She told Martin at one point to run from the man. The call dropped for about 20 seconds. When the two reconnected, Jeantel said Martin sounded tired and thought he had lost the man, but then said the man had reappeared directly behind him.
Her description of the phone call after that has come into question because of the things she told de la Rionda that she had not mentioned earlier, and because of difficulty deciphering some portions of the recording deposition.
West referred to a transcript of the deposition, which quotes Jeantel as saying she “could have” heard Martin telling someone to “get off” during their last phone call.
“Trust me, they messed up,” Jeantel told West, insisting that what she really said was that she “could” hear Martin telling someone to “get off.”
West had the tape played in court. “What did you say there?” he demanded during the muffled exchange.
“I could hear Trayvon,” she replied.
“Let’s play it again,” West replied.
West then asked her to explain the noise she has described as sounding like “wet grass” as the two men apparently scuffled on the ground.
“Could you tell me how wet grass sounds?” he said.
When she said she could not describe it, West said the sound “could have been a thousand other things than someone rolling on the ground, couldn’t it?”
“Yes, sir,” she replied.
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