A resident of the Florida gated community where George Zimmerman shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin testified on Wednesday that she heard what she felt was a boy’s voice crying for help before hearing the sound of gunfire.
Jane Surdyka told the jury that she clearly heard two yells for help on Feb. 26, 2012, the night that Zimmerman and Martin had their confrontation in the housing complex in Sanford, Fla., that led to Martin’s death. Zimmerman, who is on trial on a charge of second-degree murder, argues that he shot Martin in self-defense.
“I truly believed, especially the second yell -- it was a yelp -- I really felt it was the boy’s voice,” Surdyka said. After objections by the defense that were overruled, she went on to say: “It was like a boy’s voice,” adding that she then heard “pop, pop, pop.”
In cross-examination, the defense tried to undermine her identification of the voice crying for help as being a child’s. The defense also tried to undermine Surdyka’s memory by concentrating on the number of shots she said she heard. Only one shot was fired, killing Martin, 17.
Surdyka was the leadoff witness on Wednesday and the tenth to take the stand as the prosecution has put on its case this week. Prosecutors argue that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, profiled and stalked Martin.
Earlier, Judge Debra S. Nelson denied a defense motion that would have prevented jurors from hearing recordings of calls Zimmerman made to police in the months before he killed Martin. The calls, which Zimmerman made while serving on the neighborhood watch, involve him reporting people who appeared suspicious. The calls are intended to bolster prosecution claims that Zimmerman was overzealous against strangers.
Nelson also announced that an alternate juror in the trial had been dismissed from duty “for reasons totally unrelated to this case.” The jury, known as B72, was one of two men among the four alternate jurors. The six-person jury is all female.
Under questioning from lead prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda, Surdyka gave an account of the fateful evening, from the time she came home from work, took a shower and settled onto her bed to read, until the moment she heard the sound of yelling outside.
Surdyka said her bedroom window was open that evening. She testified she got up to close it because it began “bucketing down with rain.” After closing it and turning around to sit back down, Surdyka said she heard “loud voices.”
“It kind of surprised me because I thought who would be out there walking their dog in the pouring rain?” she said. She said she sat down and began to read, but that the voices persisted. She described them as one “very loud dominant voice” and a “higher-toned, softer voice.”
“It really wasn’t like someone out there just talking. I heard a very aggressive voice. Someone ... sounded very angry, very agitated,” said Surdyka, adding that she could not make out the words, only the tone of the voices.
“I would also hear a lighter, softer, higher-pitched voice” after the yelling voice, she said. “I heard more of the dominant voice ... maybe at the end of hearing more of that voice, I would just hear a little more of the higher-toned, softer voice.”
Surdyka said she then opened the window and looked outside.
“I could see … two people on the ground, one on top of each other,” she said, adding that it was too dark to make out the race of either person. “They were vertical. It’s kind of like … you could hear scuffling. They were on the ground and they were wrestling, or they were shuffling.”
She said she grabbed her cellphone to dial 911 and then heard the cries for help in what she felt was a boy’s voice. The recording of her call was then played for the jurors. “The person is dead, laying on the ground,” Surdyka is heard wailing on the line. “Oh, my God.”
Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, sat in the courtroom shifting uncomfortably, according to images broadcast from the Seminole County courtroom in Sanford. They looked upset as they heard Surdyka tell police in the recording: “Oh, my God, why would somebody kill someone like that?”
Defense attorney Don West pressed Surdyka on inconsistencies in her testimony. Surdyka said several times she heard three pops or shots; Zimmerman only fired once. She also conceded that in her 911 call, she can be heard offering to open her window as she speaks to the dispatcher. In court, she testified that her window already was open when she called 911.
West also pressed Surdyka on what he called her “assumptions” that the higher voice was a boy’s. Surdyka was formerly a teacher and had worked with adolescents, West said, and should know that many young men and teens develop deep voices at an early age.
“I guess so. I don’t have children, so I don’t know,” Surdyka said as the exchange became testy.
“You’ve been around a lot of teenagers, haven’t you? Haven’t you been around some teenagers who have .... real deep resonant voices?” West said, pressing the issue over prosecution objections that the line of questioning was becoming repetitive and argumentative.
“I guess so,” she replied.
“You don’t know that for sure?” West shot back.