Friend: Trayvon Martin encounter racially charged
Jun. 27, 2013
SANFORD, Florida (AP) — A friend of a black teenager shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer testified Thursday that she thought the encounter was racially charged.
Rachel Jeantel testified for the second day in a row in the trial of George Zimmerman — accused of killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin — saying she thought race was an issue because the victim 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.
The case sparked national protests after police failed to charge Zimmerman until 44 days after the killing and the case has prompted a discussion in the U.S. about race and self-defense laws.
West suggested in his cross-examination that 18-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 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," — adding a slur for white people — 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.
Martin said Zimmerman was behind him and she heard Martin ask: "What are you following me for?"
In one account, according to West, she said Zimmerman responds, "What are you doing around here?" In another account, according to West, she says Zimmerman said, "What are you talking about?"
She then heard what sounded like Martin's phone earpiece dropping into wet grass, and she heard him say, "Get off! Get off!" The phone then went dead, she said.
Zimmerman, 29, could get life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. Zimmerman followed Martin in his truck and called a police dispatch number before he and the teen got into a fight.
Zimmerman has said he opened fire only after the teenager jumped him and began slamming his head against the concrete sidewalk. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic and has denied the confrontation had anything to do with race, as Martin's family and their supporters have claimed.
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