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Key witness in Zimmerman trial returns to stand Thursday

7:52 AM, Jun 27, 2013   |    comments
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Witness Rachel Jeantel gives her testimony to the defense during George Zimmerman's trial in Seminole circuit court June 26, 2013 in Sanford, Florida. (Getty Images/Pool)

SANFORD, Fla. -- A Florida jury deciding the fate of a neighborhood watch volunteer charged with killing Trayvon Martin will hear more stirring testimony Thursday from a 19-year-old woman who heard the last moments of the boy's life.

Rachel Jeantel, 19, says she was on the phone with Trayvon right before he was killed and that George Zimmerman stared at and then came after the young man who tried several times to run away.

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She was one of three state witnesses Wednesday who painted Zimmerman as the aggressor in the deadly confrontation that later sparked racial controversy and protests around the country.

"A man was watching him," Jeantel said. "He (Trayvon) told me he was going to try to lose him."

Zimmerman, 29, says he acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin in a gated community, minutes after calling police to report that he was following a suspicious person. The prosecution says Zimmerman profiled and murdered the black teen. If convicted of second-degree murder, Zimmerman could be sentenced to life in prison.

Defense attorneys plan to question Jeantel Thursday about possible inconsistencies in her story. Jeantel admitted during testimony that she had lied twice to authorites: She said she told Trayvon's family she was 16, when she was 18. She also said she lied about going to a hospital instead of Trayvon's funeral because she didn't want to see his body.

Jeantel, who exchanged hundreds of calls and text messages with Trayvon during their friendship, said the teen called her as he was walking back from 7-Eleven on the night of the Feb. 26, 2012 killing. During their conversation Trayvon said a "creepy" man was staring at him and wanted to get away, Jeantel said.

Later, the man began following Trayvon so the teen ran through the gated community to try to get away, said Jeantel, who wore all black to court.

The teen was out of breath when Trayvon told Jeantel he had lost the man. Shortly after, Trayvon told Jeantel the man was back and behind him, she said.

"I told him you better run," Jeantel said, but within moments she heard two voices.

Jeantel recalled Trayvon saying, "Why are you following me?"

She continued: "Then I heard a hard breathing man say what are you doing around here?"

Jeantel then heard a bump and heard Trayvon saying "get off, get off," she said. Seconds later, the phone hung up and when Jeantel called back no one answered.

Three days later, Jeantel said she learned Trayvon was dead. "I had thought he was close by his daddy's house so someone would come help him," she said, visibly upset.

In the next few weeks, she was contacted by Trayvon's family and their attorney who convinced her to talk about the conversation. Jeantel said she didn't think her role would be significant because she heard Zimmerman, Trayvon's killer, had been arrested.

Wednesday, jurors, the judge, and courtroom onlookers all leaned in closely through Jeantel's riveting testimony. At times, the court reporter and jurors struggled to hear her. One juror, E6, spoke up during Jeantel's testimony and saying she couldn't hear what the young woman was saying.

Meanwhile Wednesday, several residents who lived nearby the scene of the shooting testified that they believe Trayvon was yelling for help and being beaten by Zimmerman before he died.

The witnesses, former neighbors of Zimmerman's in the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community, described trying to make out what was going on outside their windows on the rainy night of Feb. 26, 2012.

Jayne Surdyk testified that she believes she heard Trayvon Martin screaming for help shortly before being shot.

Surdyka was in an upstairs bedroom when the sound of loud voices caught her attention. Startled, Surdyka minutes later opened a window, she said, and heard a "dominant aggressive voice" and a lighter voice from "a boy."

She said it was dark and raining so she couldn't see clearly who the people were.

"I could see two people on the ground, one on top of each other," Surdyka said. "They were wrestling or shuffling."

Then she said she heard two cries for help. "They were excruciating," she said. "I felt like it was the boy's voice."

Prosecutors later played Surdyka's 911 call. In it, the woman is heard crying and describing hearing shots.

Later, Surdyka said she was making assumptions when she said the voice was coming from a young man. She also admitted that she went on CNN in disguise to describe what she saw.

Jeannee Manalo another resident of the gated community, said she thought she saw George Zimmerman on top of Trayvon Martin during a struggle.

Manalo said she heard howling, then someone yelling "help" closer. She believes she saw a larger man on top of a smaller man. After watching the news, Manalo said she compared photos of a young Trayvon Martin wearing a hoodie and a football jersey to photos of Zimmerman's full body taken by police.

(USA Today)

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