SANFORD, Fla. (Chicago Tribune) — Jurors this afternoon heard more testimony from a crucial state witness in the George Zimmerman murder trial: A young South Florida woman who was on the phone with 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in the moments before his shooting.
Court recessed for the evening about 5:45 p.m. The trial resumes at 9 a.m. tomorrow.
The key witness, 19-year-old Rachel Jeantel, gave a dramatic account of Trayvon’s killing on Wednesday, followed by at-times-contentious cross examination by defense attorney Don West, which continued for several hours today.
After her testimony was over, Jeantel was told she remains under subpoena, which means she could be called again later in the trial.
Later, jurors heard from Jennifer Lauer, a Zimmerman neighbor who called 911 on the night of the shooting. Her call captured screams in the background, followed by a gunshot.
Lauer said she was watching television in her living room, with the sliding door open nearby, when she heard what sounded like “sneakers on pavement and grass.”
Later, she heard “grunting” sounds outside that sounded like “wrestling,” Lauer said, adding the sounds seemed to be coming closer and closer to her home. She called 911, and as she talked to a dispatcher, the fatal shot was fired.
During Lauer’s testimony, the state played her 911 call for the jury.
Of the screams, Lauer said: “I couldn’t tell whose voice that was.” She said it sounded like the person screaming was in a life-threatening situation.
After Lauer testified, the jury was led out and she was questioned further. Prosecutors asked her about whether she knew about domestic violence and an arrest from Zimmerman’s past, suggesting that the state believes the defense’s questions opened the door for that testimony.
Lauer was also grilled on whether she follows Zimmerman’s brother on Twitter. She said she didn’t, or at least didn’t intend to; however, an account with her name and photo does follow Robert Zimmerman Jr.
After the social media debate, Lauer was allowed to leave, but told she could be re-called. Within about an hour of leaving the courtroom, the Twitter account had been deleted.
On Wednesday, Jeantel testified she was on the phone with Trayvon as he was followed through the Retreat at Twin Lakes by Zimmerman.
Eventually, she said she heard an exchange of words — Trayvon asking “why you following me for?” and a “hard-breathing man” responding, “what are you doing around here?” — before hearing noises and Trayvon saying “get off, get off.”
The phone call then cut off, she said. In court today, she acknowledged that in her initial recorded interview with an attorney for Trayvon’s family she had a different account of the man’s reply: “What are you talking about.”
She also acknowledged leaving out of her account to the attorney, Trayvon’s mother and an interview with prosecutors about how Trayvon described Zimmerman: A “creepy-ass cracker.”
She said her first interview by law enforcement took place in the home of Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton.
Fulton was sitting next to her during the interview, she said. She also conceded she altered her testimony about what Trayvon said on the phone that night to avoid hurting his mother’s feelings.
Jeantel testified that she heard Trayvon getting hit in the call, but West said she couldn’t know that, adding it could have been Trayvon hitting Zimmerman. Jeantel said she couldn’t rule that out.
West repeatedly asked Jeantel if she thought Trayvon confronted Zimmerman, and she repeatedly said no. If Trayvon was going to confront someone, he would have told her first, she said: “He did not tell me that, sir.”
West attempted to ask Jeantel about Trayvon’s prior fighting, but was interrupted by an objection. During the ensuing bench conference, he apparently was told he couldn’t continue that line of questioning; when testimony resumed, he went in a different direction.
The testimony went slowly Wednesday because the court reporter and others in the room were having trouble understanding the young woman. In court today, she explained that English is not her first language: She leared Creole and Spanish before English, she said.
During her testimony, Jeantel admitted to two earlier lies: She was 18 when the shooting happened, not 16, she said. She also wrongly claimed she was in the hospital at the time of Trayvon’s wake; Jeantel said Wednesday she just didn’t want to see the teen’s body.
Jeantel is often described as the state’s star witness, but defense attorneys say she’s been inconsistent in her account of the shooting. She was gruff at times in court Wednesday, and replied with exasperation upon learning she would be back for as much as two more hours on the stand today: “What?” she exclaimed.
The trial will continue to be closely watched across the nation. When Sanford police didn’t arrest Zimmerman after the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting, citing his self-defense claim, it prompted widespread civil-rights protests, in Sanford and across the globe.
Zimmerman, 29, was later charged with second-degree murder by a special prosecutor. He says he fired in self-defense after Trayvon attacked him. Zimmerman faces up to life in prison if convicted as charged.