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Prosecution’s star witness takes the stand in Zimmerman trial

Posted at 9:26 AM, Jun 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-27 09:35:17-04

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(CNN) — Taking the stand on Wednesday, the third day of the George Zimmerman trial, a friend of Trayvon Martin’s testified Wednesday about the final moments of the teenager’s life, saying that Martin told her someone was following him.

“A man was watching him,” said Rachel Jeantel, 19, who was on the phone with Martin just before he was fatally shot. “He said the man kept watching him. He kept complaining that a man was just watching him.”

That man was Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch captain charged with second-degree murder for killing 17-year-old Martin in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2012. He told police he was pursuing the teenager because there had been a rash of crime in the area. A confrontation ensued, and Zimmerman said he was forced to kill Martin in self-defense.

Jeantel testified that as he neared the home of his father’s girlfriend, Martin tried to lose Zimmerman.

“And then he said, ‘That N-word is still following me now,'” said Jeantel. “I asked him how the man looked like. He just told me the man looked ‘creepy.’ ‘Creepy, white’ — excuse my language — ‘cracker. Creepy [expletive] cracker.”

Jeantel says she heard Martin talking to Zimmerman in the background of the call.

“He said, ‘Why are you following me for?’ And I heard a hard-breathing man say, ‘What you doing around here?'” said Jeantel.

Jeantel also said she heard a bump from Martin’s headset hitting something and “wet grass sounds.”

“I start hearing a little bit of Trayvon saying, ‘Get off, get off!'” said Jeantel.

She told the prosecutor that the screams for help heard on the 911 call made by a neighbor belong to Martin. But on cross-examination, defense attorney Don West read part of a transcript from Jeantel’s deposition, in which she said she wasn’t sure if it was Martin’s voice or not.

“It could be. Like I said, I don’t know but it could be,” said Jeantel, according to the transcript. “The dude sound kind of like Trayvon. Trayvon do got that soft voice and that baby voice sometimes, so it could be, I don’t know.”

Jeantel admitted to West that she lied several times to Martin’s family. She said she told them she was 16, not 18, because she wanted to be treated like a minor and have privacy. She also said she lied about not attending Martin’s memorial service because she was in the hospital. The truth, she said, was that she was afraid to see the body.

“You got to understand, you the last person to talk to the person and he died on the phone after you talked to him — you got to understand what I’m trying to tell you,” said Jeantel. “I’m the last person, you don’t know how it felt. You think I really want to go see the body after I just talked to him?” Jeantel said.

Jeantel appeared to get frustrated several times during the cross-examination, including one time when West suggested they could break until the morning so she’d have more time to review the deposition transcript.

“No, I’m leaving today,” Jeantel told the defense attorney as she looked over the papers.

“Are you refusing to come back tomorrow?” asked West.

The judge stepped in and asked West to keep the questions and answers to Jeantel’s testimony.

Earlier in the afternoon, jurors heard five other non-emergency calls Zimmerman made reporting suspicious people in his neighborhood. The defense wanted the calls to be thrown out, questioning their relevance, but the judge ruled they would be allowed in. Prosecutors had argued that the calls show Zimmerman’s state of mind the night he shot Martin.

In one of the calls, made on February 2, 2012, about three weeks before Martin’s death, Zimmerman told the dispatcher he saw a black man walking around a neighbor’s home. He said he also had seen this man walking around the neighborhood on trash days.

“I don’t know what he’s doing, I don’t want to approach him, personally,” said Zimmerman on the recording.

In another call made in October 2011, Zimmerman reported two “suspicious characters” who were “just hanging out, loitering” in his neighborhood. When the dispatcher asked if he can still see the suspects, Zimmerman said no because he “didn’t want to attract attention” to himself.

An eyewitness who also testified on Wednesday said she heard what sounded “like a boy” cry for help during the altercation that ended in Martin’s death.

Jayne Surdyka, Zimmerman’s former neighbor, said she heard screams and opened her window to look out into the courtyard on the night of the shooting.

Defense attorney West challenged Surdyka about what she heard that night, saying it is possible for a teenager to have a deeper voice and for a man to have a higher-pitched voice.

“It sounded more like a boy to me,” said Surdyka.

Multiple times, Surdyka said she saw two men struggling on the ground, one on top of the other, but she couldn’t discern who was on top because it was dark and rainy that night.

Prosecutor Bernie De La Rionda played for the jury the 911 call Surdyka made the night of shooting. On the recording, Surdyka is heard crying and becoming hysterical. The 911 operator stayed on the phone with her to calm her down.

Prosecutors also called Jeannee Manalo, another witness, to the stand Wednesday. Manalo testified that from her point of view inside her townhome, she could see two men struggling on the ground. She also said she believes Zimmerman was on top of Martin during the altercation and that she could see his hands moving.

During cross-examination, Manalo said photographs she saw on the news of a younger Martin support her view that Zimmerman was on top during the altercation. Defense attorney Mark O’Mara asked her if she had ever seen recent photos of Martin. She said no but maintained that based on the photographs, the bigger person was on top, and Zimmerman seemed to be the bigger person.

Before court recessed for the day, the defense told the judge it expects to need a couple more hours to question Martin’s friend, Jeantel. Testimony is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. ET on Thursday.