Frustrations mark Zimmerman trial Thursday

Trayvon Martin's friend takes stand for second day

Ebenn@miamiherald.comJune 28, 2013 

SANFORD -- Frustrations ran high in the George Zimmerman murder trial Thursday as Trayvon Martin's childhood friend from Miami remained locked in a lengthy cross-examination by Zimmerman's defense team.

Rachel Jeantel, 19, on the witness stand for the second day, spoke softly and at times seemed annoyed and confused by repeated questions about her past statements regarding her calls with Trayvon in the final minutes before the Miami Gardens teen's shooting death Feb. 26, 2012.

In an admission that sent a hush through the courtroom, Jeantel said she could not read a handwritten letter, composed by her but written by a friend, because: "I don't read cursive."

Defense attorney Don West tried to remain patient while meticulously combing through Jeantel's recollection of her conversations with media, investigators and Trayvon's parents. He frequently asked Jeantel to speak up or repeat herself.

On the other side of the aisle, prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda objected several times to West's cross-examination. West dropped his pen on a lectern in frustration during one objection.

Jurors, meanwhile, stayed engaged throughout the West-Jeantel exchange, taking notes and swiveling their heads back and forth between the attorney and witness,

though several suppressed yawns as the questioning drew on.

Jeantel is one of the prosecution's most important witnesses because she bolsters the contention that Zimmerman was the aggressor in his confrontation with 17-year-old Martin.

She claims to have heard Trayvon ask, "why are you following me?" then, "get off! get off!" seconds before Zimmerman fatally shot the teen last year.

But as she acknowledged under cross-examination Thursday, Jeantel did not mention hearing Zimmerman say, "What are you doing around here?" or Trayvon say, "get off, get off" in her initial statements on the case. She told West that was because she didn't think they were important or relevant at the time.

Jeantel, a rising senior at Miami Norland Senior High who had known Trayvon since elementary school, testified the previous day under direct examination that Trayvon "kept complaining that a man was just watching him."

She testified that at some point on Trayvon's walk back to the home of his father's fiancée the night of the shooting, Trayvon told Jeantel a "creepy cracker" was following him.

Her much-anticipated testimony could be key in the case. Prosecutors have tried to depict Zimmerman as an overzealous Neighborhood Watch volunteer who followed and shot Trayvon, who was unarmed.

Defense lawyers have said Trayvon was the aggressor and Zimmerman, 29, shot in self-defense as Trayvon hit Zimmerman's head on the sidewalk.

Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder, faces up to life in prison if convicted as charged.

The case sparked protests and marches in the 44 days between Trayvon's shooting death and Zimmerman's arrest. It also led to vigorous debates about race and Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, which does not apply to this case. A six-person, all-female jury will decide Zimmerman's fate.

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