SANFORD, Fla. (USA Today) - The first eyewitnesses in the murder trial of George Zimmerman testified Wednesday that they believe Trayvon Martin was yelling for help and being beaten by Zimmerman before he died.
The witnesses, former neighbors of Zimmerman's in the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community, described trying to make out what was going on outside their windows on the rainy night of Feb. 26, 2012. In both cases, Zimmerman's lawyers pointed to the possible influence of media on the witnesses' recollections.
Zimmerman, 29, says he acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. The prosecution says he profiled and murdered the black teen. If convicted of second-degree murder, Zimmerman could be sentenced to life in prison.
Jayne Surdyka, a former resident of Retreat at Twin Lakes, testified that she believes she heard Trayvon Martin screaming for help shortly before being shot.
Surdyka was in an upstairs bedroom when the sound of loud voices caught her attention. Startled, Surdyka minutes later opened a window, she said, and heard a "dominate aggressive voice" and a lighter voice from "a boy."
She said it was dark and raining so she couldn't see clearly who the people were.
"I could see two people on the ground, one on top of each other," Surdyka said. "They were wrestling or shuffling."
Then she said she heard two cries for help. "They were excruciating," she said. "I felt like it was the boy's voice."
Soon after, as she was dialing 911, Surdyka heard three "pops." She later saw Zimmerman get up and walk toward her window. She said Zimmerman didn't look hurt and that he put his hand on his forehead.
Prosecutors later played Surdyka's 911 call. In it, the woman is heard crying and describing hearing shots.
Later, Surdyka said she was making assumptions when she said the voice was coming from a young man. She also admitted that she went on CNN in disguise to describe what she saw.
Jeannee Manalo, another resident of the gated community, said she thought she saw George Zimmerman on top of Trayvon during a struggle.
Manalo said she heard howling, then someone closer yelling "help." She said she looked outside through a door but it was too dark to make out exactly what was happening.
She said she believes she saw a larger man on top of a smaller man. After watching the news, Manalo said she compared photos of Trayvon wearing a hoodie and a football jersey to photos of Zimmerman's full body taken by police.
Using those pictures, she said she believes Zimmerman was on top of the teen "hitting down."
Rachel Jeantel, 19, the woman who says she was on the phone with Trayvon Martin moments before he was killed, also took the stand Wednesday afternoon.
Jeantel, known as witness eight in court documents, said Trayvon Martin was running from a man who was following him.
"A man was watching him," Jeantel told jurors. "He (Trayvon) told me he was going to try to lose him."
Trayvon described Zimmerman as "creepy" and ran through the gated community to try to get away, Jeantel said.
The teen was out of breath when Trayvon told Jeantel he had lost the man following him. Shortly after though, Trayvon told Jeantel the man was back and behind him, she said.
"I told him you better run," Jeantel said, but within moments she heard two voices.
Trayvon said, "Why are you following me," Jeantel said.
She continued: "Then I heard a hard breathing man say what are you doing around here?"
Next Jeantel said she heard a bump and heard Trayvon saying "get off, get off."
Seconds later the phone hung up and when Jeantel called back no one answered.
It was until three days later that she learned Trayvon was dead, Jeantel said.
"I had thought he was close by his daddy's house so someone would come help him," she said, visibly upset.
Jeantel, a senior at Miami Norland High School, said she didn't go to Trayvon's funeral arrangements because she didn't want to see the teen's body.
"I felt guilty," she said. "I was the last person who talked to their son and I didn't go to the wake."
Jeantel met Trayvon in elementary school and reconnected with him a few weeks before his death. The two were just friends and never dated, she told jurors.
Wednesday's testimony followed a day of graphic evidence, including photos of the slain teen and the gun that fired the fatal bullet.
In a moment that brought the courtroom to a solemn still Tuesday, lawyers displayed photos of Trayvon's body moments after he had been shot. Some jurors looked noticeably uncomfortable with the grisly photos, which showed the teen's eyes still open in death.
The jurors also saw the gun Zimmerman used to shoot Trayvon, as well as the hoodie that Trayvon wore on the night of his death - a hoodie that some activists have said symbolizes the racial divide at the root of the killing.
Several witnesses testified about how the night unfolded and how Zimmerman got involved in neighborhood watch.
"We all want to make a difference," said Sgt. Anthony Raimondo, a Sanford police officer who said he arrived on the scene of the shooting within five minutes and tried to save Trayvon's life.
Throughout the officer's testimony, prosecutors showed several pictures of the teen's body, including a photo of him laying on his chest, a photo of the teen laying on his back, a closeup of the teen's face, and a closeup of a blood-filled bullet hole in Trayvon's chest.
Trayvon was facedown on the ground with his arms underneath him when Raimondo arrived, the officer recalled.
Raimondo said when he didn't find a pulse for Trayvon, he turned the teen over and tried to do mouth to mouth CPR. The officer said he didn't wait for a face mask to perform CPR because he knew that time was of the essence.
He went on to describe trying unsuccessfully to find an exit wound for the bullet. Raimondo said he eventually watched as emergency responders pronounced Trayvon dead.