Rachel Jeantel faces 2nd day of questioning in George Zimmerman trial

Published On: Jun 27 2013 08:11:14 AM EDT
Updated On: Jun 28 2013 12:16:01 AM EDT

One of the prosecution's most important witnesses in the Trayvon Martin murder case faces a second day of defense questioning.

SANFORD, Fla. -

One of the prosecution's most important witnesses in the Trayvon Martin murder case faces a second day of defense questioning about what she heard while on the phone with the teen right before he was killed.

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Nineteen-year-old Rachel Jeantel's testimony continued Thursday and is considered important to the state's case. She was the last person to talk to the 17-year-old Martin before his encounter with defendant George Zimmerman on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford.

Defense attorney Don West continued to cross-examine Jeantel Thursday morning asking about her phone interview deposition with Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump, challenging her about differences in her deposition.

West brought out a personal letter Jeantel wrote to Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton. The state has no objection to the letter coming into evidence, but objected to Jeantel reading it. It was written in cursive by a friend based on what she said and signed the letter with a nickname, "Diamond Eugene." West read the letter aloud to jurors because Jeantel said she couldn't read cursive.

Jeantel said Crump asked her if the incident was a "racial thing" but claims his question is missing from transcript. Jeantel said she didn't know race was an issue in the Martin case three weeks after Zimmerman shot him. She said she feels now the shooting was a racial thing because Martin was being followed.

Jeantel said she didn't believe "creepy a** cracker" is a racial comment. She said she never told anyone about Martin's comment until a year after the shooting.

"It was a personal letter to his mother," Jeantel said when West asked why she didn't write anything about thinking it was racial in the letter.

West then implied that the Martin family hid Jeantel from police because Crump said the family didn't trust Sanford police. At a news conference in 2012, Crump said he was handing over information about Jeantel to the U.S. Justice Department.

Jeantel talked to ABC News using the alias "DeeDee" after Crump on March 19, 2012, before her interview with prosecutors on April 2. Jeantel said Fulton was sitting beside her along with Martin family attorney Natalie Jackson when the state attorney first questioned her. Jeantel said Crump was driving her to Fulton's house for the state attorney interview.

"I never thought I was a witness, a serious witness ...  an important witness," Jeantel said.

She told West she altered her story about Martin because his mom was in the room during the state attorney interview. Jeantel said she didn't want his mother to hear Martin use words such as "cracker." She also said she didn't originally tell Fulton she overheard Martin saying, "get off, get off."

"I did not think it was important," Jeantel said when West asked why she didn't tell Fulton.

West then focused on the timeline of the night with the 911 calls and Martin's phone call records. Jeantel said she told Martin to run and he did. Zimmerman said Martin was running at 7:11:41 and Jeantel said she told Martin to run until call disconnected at 7:11:47. The first 911 call was made at 7:16:11. Jeantel's testimony on Martin running appears to be consistent with Zimmerman's story and forensic times almost to the second, records show. What hasn't been stated is Zimmerman's location from 7:13:40 when Zimmerman's non-emergency call ends and 7:16:11, when the witness 911 call was made.

After nearly 90 minutes of cross-examination, Jeantel remained poised, composed and much less defensive than Wednesday's questioning, answering with "yes sir" and "no sir."

West even asked if Jeantel was OK because she seemed different from Wednesday's testimony, in his opinion. Jeantel said no one coached her about her performance on Wednesday and that she was acting differently on Thursday because she got sleep.

After a short recess, West showed Jeantel a map of the Sanford neighborhood, Retreat at Twin Lakes, before the state objected.

West then said, forcefully, "You don't know Trayvon Martin got hit. You don't know if Trayvon Martin didn't take his fist and drive it into George Zimmerman's face?"

Jeantel paused and said, "No sir."

West moved on to the the discrepancies in transcripts on whether she identified Martin as saying "get off." She first quoted "get off" in the April 2, 2012 inteview but couldn't then say for certain it was Martin saying it.

"Trust me, they messed up," Jeantel said, insisting the voice was Martin.

The jury was then brought out for the audio interview of Jeantel and prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda from April 2, 2012, to be played for the judge to decide if it will be admitted into evidence.

The defense says Jeantel says, "I couldn't hear it was Trayvon." Jeantel says she said "I could hear it was Trayvon."

The state objected for the defense bringing in that interview into evidence. The defense said it wants the jury to decide. The audiotape was played for the jury and Jeantel confirmed it was her saying "get off."

West then asked Jeantel to describe what "wet grass" sounds like, to which she responded, "wet." Jeantel said it sounded like someone rolling on Martin's phone headset. When asked to describe the rolling sound, she brushed the court microphone to simulate headset sound she heard and agreed with West that a sound like that could be caused by various things.

"He decided to approach this man and say 'why you following me?'" West asked.

Jeantel replied, "Yes sir."

When West asked if Martin could have attacked Zimmerman, Jeantel responded, "That's real retarded, sir."

"That's why you didn't do anything because you knew Trayvon Martin the fight, didn't you?" West said.

"No, sir," Jeantel replied, denying that she said Martin "approached" by Zimmerman.

"The man was behind Trayvon, sir ... close," Jeantel said.

The defense suggested to Jeantel that Martin may have been hiding before encounter with Zimmerman.

"If Trayvon Martin was getting ready to assault someone, he could call you back," West said.

"No, sir, he would not allow me on the phone with him I'd he was about to have a fight," Jeantel replied. "Trayvon would have told me he would call back if he were going to approach him."

Juror 5 shook her head and looked disapprovingly at West when he claimed Jeantel previously testified she could have heard Martin hit Zimmerman.

"He would not allow me on the phone if he was about to have a fight," Jeantel said.

[READ: Exhibit list | State's evidence ]

After lunch recess, questioning continued of Jeantel. The defense wanted the jury to hear the taped interview with the state again. The defense said the state asked if Martin said the man got out of the car, to which Jeantel answered, "you want that too?"

The defense suggested Jeantel the state fed her words. West asked Jeantel if she said that and she said she did not. Judge Debra Nelson said the jury would not hear the recording again unless Jeantel gave a conflicting answer.

West completed his cross-examination and de la Rionda started his redirect by joking if he was the "bald-headed dude" Jeantel referred to earlier in the day. De la Rionda started asking about her Haitian background and Jeantel said Creole is her first language. She said English is her third language and she can't read cursive.

De la Rionda limited his redirect questions, limiting what the defense could do on recross. West asked Jeantel about when she spoke English and Jeantel said she learned to speak Creole first, not speaking much English to her mother.

"I understand English really well," Jeantel said, but misunderstood a question from West seconds later about what "creepy a** cracker" meant in her culture. She said she didn't recall if Martin used the word "cracker."

As Jeantel was about to be released from questioning, the defense said they wanted to question Jeantel outside of the jury presence. She was allowed to go home but is still under subpoena. Jeantel appeared relieved and asked "can I use my phone?"

Zimmerman was in court on Thursday wearing a gray sport coat with a dress shirt and tie, seen talking intently with his attorney, former Local 6 legal analyst Mark O'Mara.

Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, claiming self-defense.

Jeantel bolsters prosecutors' contention that Zimmerman was the aggressor in his confrontation with Martin.  She says Martin told her a man was following him.

Later, she said she heard what sounded like Martin's phone earpiece drop into the grass and heard him say, "Get off! Get off!"

Prosecutor Richard Mantei called the state's next witness, Raymond MacDonald, a manager for T-Mobile. MacDonald authenticated cellphone records coming into evidence.

De la Rionda called witness Jennifer Lauer, who made the first 911 call, which contains the screams and the gunshot. She lived in the Retreat at Twin Lakes subdivision for three years before the shooting.

Lauer said she was watching TV when the shooting occurred. Her sliding glass door was open to the backyard.

Lauer said she heard voices outside first, sounding like "loud talking" from the left--which is the north toward the top of the "T" in the path. She said one person said something then another but she couldn't hear what they were saying, describing the voices as "flustered."

"The yelps turned to helps" from one person, Lauer said, she can't identify.

She said she heard "scuffling" on pavement and grass. The scuffling led to wrestling and Lauer said she "felt like they would almost come in through the screen." They heard grunting and yelling noises so they moved away to call 911.

"We kinda just ducked down to the ground in the kitchen and then tried to scurry our way upstairs.  We just tried to get away from the door," Lauer said.

Lauer said she "didn't know if it was kids fooling around" and she "didn't want them to hear me snitching on them." She and her husband called 911, estimating it took 30 seconds for 911 to connect. Records show the call connected at 7:16:11, the gunshot was heard 45 seconds later and ended the cries for help.

She said she heard her neighbor one unit south of her, John Goode, go outside and say to the scufflers "What the hell are you doing" and the "helps" continued.

Fulton left the room as Lauer's 911 call was played for the jury. Tracy Martin stayed in the courtroom with his eyes downcast and not reacting to gunshot.

De la Rionda asked if Lauer ever heard someone say "you're going to die tonight motherf*****," as Zimmerman claimed Martin told him. She said she never heard that.

De la Rionda then had Lauer identify which townhome is hers in crime scene photos. She said the house numbers can be visible from the sidewalk or not, depending on location of the bushes.

She said she received an email from Zimmerman about neighborhood watch and never formally met Zimmerman, but knew of him. She said she can't say if it was Zimmerman yelling because she never heard him do that in the meetings.

O'Mara cross-examined Lauer, asking if she could make out any words. Lauer said she couldn't hear anyone say what Zimmerman says was said or Jeantel says was said.

"It sounded like they were desperate ... Really needed help," she said about the cries, calling them "life-threatening screams."

Lauer said her husband tried to grab the knife before going outside because he didn't know where the fight was at.

Lauer was then shown a picture of Zimmerman's injuries and said she couldn't identify him with the injuries.

O'Mara then asked Lauer about Homeowner's Association concerns with people walking into complex along the same path. She said she doesn't consider Zimmerman a "vigilante" and his Neighborhood Watch program involvement was appropriate.

In redirect, de la Rionda asked Lauer about the location of the screams. The jury was then brought out of the courtroom just after 4 p.m. for a proffer after the defense opened the door to Zimmerman's prior domestic violence injunction and battery arrest during cross-examination.

The defense objected to bringing in Zimmerman's domestic violence with the restraining order from his former girlfriend and his battery arrest. Lauer said she was aware of both. The jury was not in the courtroom.

Lauer was released from the stand after being questioned about her Twitter account.

The state then called Selma Mora, a Spanish-speaker with an interpreter on hand, who lived at Retreat View Circle with Mary Cutcher, who was critical of Sanford Police Department's non-arrest. 

Prosecutor John Guy questioned Mora about what she saw and heard the night of the shooting. He also questioned her about what her roommate, Cutcher, did that night.

In cross-examination, O'Mara asked Mora what direction Mora heard noise coming through using a diagram of the subdivision. O'Mara then had Mora demonstrate how she looked out of the window to see what was going on outside.

O'Mara also asked how Zimmerman appeared to act after the shooting and if Zimmerman appeared to be concerned. Mora said he could have looked concerned. Guy asked a few quick redirect questions  before Mora was excused.

Court was recessed until 9 a.m. on Friday.

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Martin family attorney Daryl Parks and O'Mara held separate news conferences after court on Thursday.

O'Mara said he's happy with how the trial has gone on thus far, stating he can't believe the trial is in its fourth day.

"I feel like I've been here for three weeks," O'Mara said, adding that he believes the initial trial length estimate of 2 to 4 weeks may be accurate.

O'Mara said Zimmerman is happy that the trial is underway.

"The only battle in this courtroom is justice and truth," O'Mara said.

Tracy Martin and Fulton stood by Parks outside of the courtroom on Thursday as Parks spoke for them, saying they praise Jeantel for coming forward and testifying.

"She is a young lady going into the twelfth grade and she did her best this family is so proud of her," Parks said.

"We believe we'll get a fair verdict we believe the evidence in this case is overwhelming," Parks said, adding that the evidence shows who the aggressor was.

Parks said that they believe race shouldn't be a part of the process and that they're not worried about the jury's makeup.

On Tuesday, graphic pictures of Martin's body were shown to jurors, prompting Martin's father, Tracy Martin, to leave the courtroom.

[PHOTOS:  Warning, content may be graphic]

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