Witness: Martin and Zimmerman Encounter 'Racially Charged'

10:37 AM, Jun 27, 2013   |    comments
Rachel Jeantel, the witness that was on the phone with Trayvon Martin just before he died, gives her testimony during George Zimmerman's trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla. Wednesday.(Photo: Jacob Langston, AP)
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SANFORD, Fla. (USA TODAY) -- A friend of Trayvon Martin who was on the telephone with the teen in the last moments of his life testified Thursday that she thought his encounter with murder defendant George Zimmerman was racially charged.

Rachel Jeantel testified that she believed race was an issue because Martin told her he was being followed by a white man.

Jeantel's comments came on the second day of her testimony in the second-degree murder case against Zimmerman as she was being grilled by Zimmerman defense attorney Don West, who suggested that she had not talked about racial issues in some previous statements to police, attorneys and correspondence with Martin's family. Under questioning by West, Jeantel said their were inconsistencies because of some of the questions posed by state attorneys and law enforcement officials as well as the length of the interviews. She also said she omitted some details of what she knew because she was trying to spare Martin's family grief.

Jeantel, 19, testified Wednesday that she was on the phone with Trayvon right before he was killed and that he had told her that Zimmerman stared at and then came after the teen, who tried several times to run away.

She is one of three state witnesses who've painted Zimmerman as the aggressor in the deadly confrontation that later sparked racial controversy and protests around the country.

"A man was watching him," Jeantel said. "He (Trayvon) told me he was going to try to lose him."

Zimmerman, 29, says he acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin in a gated community, minutes after calling police to report that he was following a suspicious person. The prosecution says Zimmerman profiled and murdered the black teen. If convicted of second-degree murder, Zimmerman could be sentenced to life in prison.

Jeantel admitted during testimony Wednesday that she had lied twice to authorites: She said she told Trayvon's family she was 16, when she was 18. She also said she lied about going to a hospital instead of Trayvon's funeral because she didn't want to see his body.

Jeantel, who exchanged hundreds of calls and text messages with Trayvon during their friendship, said he called her as he was walking back from 7-Eleven on the night of the Feb. 26, 2012 killing. During their conversation Trayvon said a "creepy" man was staring at him and wanted to get away, Jeantel said.

Later, the man began following Trayvon so the teen ran through the gated community to try to get away, said Jeantel, who wore all black to court.

The teen was out of breath when Trayvon told Jeantel he had lost the man. Shortly after, 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.

Jeantel recalled Trayvon saying, "Why are you following me?"

She continued: "Then I heard a hard breathing man say what are you doing around here?"

Jeantel then heard a bump and heard Trayvon saying "get off, get off," she said. Seconds later, the phone hung up and when Jeantel called back no one answered.

Three days later, Jeantel said she learned Trayvon was dead. "I had thought he was close by his daddy's house so someone would come help him," she said, visibly upset.

In the next few weeks, she was contacted by Trayvon's family and their attorney who convinced her to talk about the conversation. Jeantel said she didn't think her role would be significant because she heard Zimmerman, Trayvon's killer, had been arrested.

Wednesday, jurors, the judge, and courtroom onlookers all leaned in closely through Jeantel's riveting testimony. At times, the court reporter and jurors struggled to hear her. One juror, E6, spoke up during Jeantel's testimony and saying she couldn't hear what the young woman was saying.

Meanwhile Wednesday, several residents who lived nearby the scene of the shooting testified that they believe Trayvon 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 night of the shooting.

Jayne Surdyk 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 "dominant 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."

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 Martin during a struggle.

Manalo said she heard howling, then someone yelling "help" closer. She believes she saw a larger man on top of a smaller man. After watching the news, Manalo said she compared photos of a young Trayvon wearing a hoodie and a football jersey to photos of Zimmerman's full body taken by police

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