SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — A friend of Trayvon Martin‘s who was on the phone with him shortly before his fatal fight with George Zimmerman testified Thursday that she thought the encounter was racially charged.
Rachel Jeantel testified for the second day in a row, saying she thought race was an issue because Martin told her he was being followed by a white man.
“He was being followed,” Jeantel said.
Her answer came in response to questioning from defense attorney Don West about why she had given differing accounts about what she had heard over the phone when Martin first encountered Zimmerman on a rainy night on Feb. 26, 2012, at the Retreat at Twin Lakes townhome complex.
West suggested in his cross-examination that 19-year-old Jeantel had raised the racial issue in some accounts but not others. In some accounts, West implied, Jeantel said Zimmerman responded one way when he first encountered Martin, but in other accounts she said he responded another way. Jeantel gave her version of events in a deposition, in a letter to Martin’s mother and in a recorded interview with an attorney for the Martin family.
Jeantel is one of the prosecution’s most important witnesses because she bolsters the contention that Zimmerman was the aggressor. She was on the phone with Martin moments before he was fatally shot.
Jeantel testified Wednesday that her friend’s last words were “Get off! Get off!” before the phone went silent. But on Thursday, under cross-examination, she conceded that she hadn’t mentioned that in her account of what happened to Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton.
She had left out some details to spare Fulton’s feelings, and also because neither Fulton nor the Martin family attorney asked her directly about them, Jeantel said. At one point, West handed her a letter she had written with the help of a friend to Martin’s mother explaining what happened. She looked at it but then said she couldn’t read cursive handwriting.
When asked by West if she had previously told investigators that she heard what sounded like somebody being hit at the end of her call with Martin, Jeantel said, “Trayvon got hit.”
“You don’t know that? Do you? You don’t know that Trayvon got hit,” West answered angrily. “You don’t know that Trayvon didn’t at that moment take his fists and drive them into George Zimmerman’s face.”
Jeantel recounted to jurors on Wednesday 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.
She testified that Martin described the man following him as “a creepy-ass cracker” and that he thought he had evaded him. But she said Martin told her a short time later the man was still behind him, and she told him to run.