Witness gets combative with defense attorneys in Zimmerman trial

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SANFORD, Fla. - A friend who was on the phone with 17-year-old Trayvon Martin moments before he was fatally shot by George Zimmerman got combative with defense attorneys during testimony Wednesday.

Rachel Jeantel testified that she heard the Miami teen shout, "Get off! Get off!" before his telephone went dead.

She then recounted to jurors in Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial how Martin told her he was being followed by a man as he walked through the Retreat at Twin Lakes townhome complex on his way back from a convenience store to the home of his father's fiancee.

Jeantel is considered one of the prosecution's most important witnesses because she was the last person to talk to Martin before his encounter with Zimmerman on Feb. 26, 2012.

She testified that Martin described the man following him as "a creepy-ass cracker" and he thought he had evaded him. But she said a short time later Martin let out a profanity.



Martin said Zimmerman was behind him and she heard Martin ask: "What are you following me for?"

She then heard what sounded like Martin's phone earpiece drop into the grass and she heard him say, "Get off! Get off!" The phone then went dead, she said.

Martin's family reacted as Jeantel sparred with defense attorney Don West during cross-examination.

“Are you listening?" Jeantel asked West multiple times.

The jury took notes about lies Jeantel admitted to and also when Jeantel said she believed it was Martin screaming for help, though the call had disconnected before that, Channel 9’s Kathi Belich reported.

Jeantel said her phone call with Martin cut off before the screams, but she heard a recording of the screams at a later time. The state asked whose voice she thought it was.

“Trayvon's. It sounded like Trayvon's,” she said.

But the defense read back to Jeantel during cross examination the different statement she previously gave under oath when Zimmerman's attorney deposed her.

“Your answer, ‘It could be,’” said West.

While on the stand, Jeantel admitted to lying about being in the hospital during Martin’s funeral and lying about her age to try to avoid telling her story to Martin's family and the public.

Jeantel and Martin had known each other since second grade but lost touch and reconnected in February 2012, weeks before the shooting.

Jeantel described Martin's fear the night of the shooting. She then broke down when she talked about not wanting to see Martin’s body at his wake.

Jeantel said she found out the next day through a text message Martin had been shot to death.

When asked why she didn’t attend the funeral, Jeantel said, “I felt guilty.”

"You felt guilty about what?" asked prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda.

“I found out I was the last person, I was the last person who talked to their son,” she said.

Zimmerman, 29, could get life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder for killing Martin. Zimmerman followed him in his truck and called a police dispatch number before he and the teen got into a fight.

Zimmerman has claimed self-defense, saying he opened fire after the teenager jumped him and began slamming his head against the concrete sidewalk.

Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, has denied the confrontation with the black teenager had anything to do with race, as Martin's family and its supporters have claimed.

Jeantel's testimony came after two former neighbors of Zimmerman testified Wednesday about hearing howls and shouts for help in the moments before the shooting.



Jayne Surdyka told the court that immediately before the shooting, she heard an aggressive voice and a softer voice exchanging words for several minutes in an area behind her townhome at the Retreat at Twin Lakes.

Surdyka said she was in a second-floor bedroom of her townhome when she heard the scuffling outside.

"It was someone being very aggressive and angry at someone," she said.

During the struggle, she said, she saw a person in dark clothes on top of the other person. Martin was wearing a dark sweatshirt and Zimmerman wore red clothing.

Surdyka said she saw the person who was on top get off the body after the shot was fired.

Surdyka said she heard cries for help and then multiple gunshots: "Pop, pop, pop." Only one shot was fired in the fatal encounter.

"I truly believe the second yell for help was a yelp," said Surdyka, who later dabbed away tears as prosecutors played her 911 call. "It was excruciating. I really felt it was a boy's voice."

During cross-examination, West tried to show there was a lapse in what Surdyka saw. Defense attorneys contend Martin was on top of Zimmerman during the struggle, but after the neighborhood watch volunteer fired a shot, Zimmerman got on top of Martin.

West also challenged Surdyka about her belief that the cry for help was a boy's voice, saying she was making an assumption about whose voice it was.

The defense also found Surdyka making statements that didn't match what she told 911.

“In the 911 call, did you hear yourself say to the operator. ‘I can open the window if you want?’” asked West.

“I'm absolutely sure that the window was open,” she said.

“But you recognize, as though you told the operator, ‘I can open the window if you want,’” said West.

“Yes, I think. I must have been nervous,” she said.

Surdyka had told investigators the shooting left her terrified, but she also carried a lot of guilt, because she didn't go outside to try to help.

Jeannee Manalo testified after Surdyka that she believed Zimmerman was on top of Martin, saying he was the bigger of the two based on pictures she saw of Martin on television after the fight.

Manalo also described hearing howling, but she couldn't tell who it was coming from, and then a "help sound" a short time later.

"I heard a shot. (I) told my husband. He went out," said Manalo.

Under cross-examination, defense attorney Mark O'Mara asked why she had never mentioned her belief that Zimmerman was on top in previous police interviews.

Manalo said her husband is the one who a police sergeant said grabbed a shopping bag to help seal Martin's wound.

The defense asked Manalo why she thought Zimmerman was on top.  O’Mara got her to concede that her perception of Martin's size was based on five-year-old photos she had seen of him on television that showed a younger and smaller Martin.

The defense went on to poke more holes in Manalo's testimony that claimed she saw Zimmerman on top of Martin during their fight before she was dismissed, according to Belich.

Martin's parents have said they believe the cries for help captured on 911 calls made by Zimmerman's neighbors came from their son, while Zimmerman's father has said he believes the cries belong to his son.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys believe they could show whether Zimmerman or Martin was the aggressor in the encounter.

Defense attorneys successfully argued against allowing prosecution experts who claimed the cries belonged to Martin.

Before the February 2012 shooting, Zimmerman had made about a half dozen calls to a nonemergency police number to report suspicious characters in his neighborhood. Judge Debra Nelson on Wednesday ruled that they could be played for jurors.

Prosecutors had argued that the police dispatch calls were central to their case that Zimmerman committed second-degree murder since they showed his state of mind. He was increasingly frustrated with repeated burglaries and had reached a breaking point the night he shot the unarmed teenager, prosecutors say.

Defense attorneys argued that the calls were irrelevant and that nothing matters but the seven or eight minutes before Zimmerman fired the deadly shot into Martin's chest.

Seven of the nine jurors and alternates scribbled attentively on their notepads as the calls were played.

Before the witness took the stand Wednesday morning, a juror was dismissed. Judge Debra Nelson said alternate juror B72 was dismissed for reasons unrelated to case.

Alternate juror B72 is a Hispanic man in his 20s or 30s. He's a professional arm wrestler who can do a one-armed pullup, and he said he doesn't usually feel sympathy. He has no close relationships.