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As everyone knows already, the trial of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin started on Monday. I’ve not been able to watch it live but have kept up with it pretty well through a Twitter list of journos and other key players I created. The list is like a virtual play by play of what’s happening, what’s being said, etc at the trial, and reading it you almost feel like you’re there. For those who want to watch it online live, you can do so by visiting WESH.com.
Anyway, the big story of the week so far has been the testimony of Trayvon Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel, the young woman who was the last to speak with Martin (on the phone) shortly before he was shot and killed at the Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood in Sanford, FL on a rainy night in February 2012. It is her deposition to the state that is the primary basis for their charge of 2nd degree murder against George Zimmerman. In her initial deposition to the state, Jeantel essentially said that Trayvon gave her somewhat of a play by play of what was happening. Zimmerman watching him from his truck. Zimmerman getting out following him. Details of where Trayvon was. And, according to her, Zimmerman confronting Martin – the crucial part of her testimony. The defense, understandably, knows that in order to help create reasonable doubt in this case that it must discredit Jeantel and from what I’ve seen, they’ve done just that. Jeantel, on the first day of cross-examination by the defense, became openly hostile at times after frustration set in over the detailed questioning of defense attorney Don West. At the end of the day Wednesday, she even threatened not to come back – to which the judge told her she’d be the one deciding that.
Jeantel was indeed told she would have to come back Thursday, and by the time it was all said and done, she had testified for nearly 5 and a half hours. The defense discovered some pretty shocking things: 1) That when Jeantel had sat down for her initial interview with the state, Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton was present – highly unusual. 2) As a result, according to Jeantel, that’s why her deposition is different than some of what she has said this week on the witness stand – she didn’t want to offend or upset Martin’s mother. Hmm. 3) When she first spoke with the Martin family and Martin family attorney Ben Crump, she said he had asked her if he thought the shooting was racially motivated, and she said yes. On the tape of this interview, Crump’s question cannot be heard, which has led to questions as to how much of the tape was edited – something the defense understandably wants to get answers to. The defense is trying to show, without saying so, that much of what Jeantel is saying on the stand was coached to her by Crump and Martin family allies. 4) Jeantel admitted lying about the reason why she didn’t attend Trayvon Martin’s wake. 5) She also lied about her name in a letter to Ms. Fulton as well as on the initial phone call, and also lied about her age. Lies adding up lead to a jury wondering if a witness can be trusted to tell the truth about key events.
In fact, many of the state’s key witnesses so far have been more helpful to the defense than to the prosecution due largely to the expert, careful, meticulous questioning of lead defense attorney Mark O’Mara and West. None more so apparent than a state witness who took the stand Thursday afternoon - Jennifer Lauer, a neighbor of Zimmerman’s whose 911 call is the one where the cries for help and then a gunshot can be heard:
Lauer said she was watching television in her living room, with the sliding door open nearby, when she heard what sounded like “sneakers on pavement and grass.”
Later, she heard “grunting” sounds outside that sounded like “wrestling,” Lauer said, adding the sounds seemed to be coming closer and closer to her home. She called 911, and as she talked to a dispatcher, the fatal shot was fired.
During Lauer’s testimony, the state played her 911 call for the jury.
Of the screams, Lauer said: “I couldn’t tell whose voice that was.” She said it sounded like the person screaming was in a life-threatening situation.
After Lauer testified, the jury was led out and she was questioned further. Prosecutors asked her about whether she knew about domestic violence and an arrest from Zimmerman’s past, suggesting that the state believes the defense’s questions opened the door for that testimony.
Lauer was also grilled on whether she follows Zimmerman’s brother on Twitter. She said she didn’t, or at least didn’t intend to; however, an account with her name and photo does follow Robert Zimmerman Jr.
After the social media debate, Lauer was allowed to leave, but told she could be re-called. Within about an hour of leaving the courtroom, the Twitter account had been deleted.
What’s interesting about the questioning of Lauer on her Twitter account – basically trying to discredit her – is that this did not come up BEFORE she testified. Presumably, the state knew this in advance – as the old saying goes, you don’t ask a question of your own witness that you don’t know the answer to – so why bring it up AFTER she testifies? Because she ended up being an excellent witness for George Zimmerman: she said she heard sounds on concrete, which would support the defense’s claim that Zimmerman’s head was bashed into the sidewalk by Martin, she said Zimmerman didn’t look wild-eyed or crazy after the shooting, claims that the back and forth voices she heard ‘moved from sidewalk T-intersection toward her townhouse’ – which would bolster the defense’s argument that Zimmerman was going back to his vehicle but was then approached by Martin. She also stated only ONE person was screaming for help because the “help” sounds were consistently said by the same voice. She also noted house numbers could not be seen clearly in certain parts of the community due to bushes, undercutting the prosecution’s claim that Zimmerman did not need to get out of his truck in order to get a house number for where Martin was located.
This is largely how the state’s week has gone. Witness after witness, under cross examination, ends up saying things that help Zimmerman, Jeantel and Lauer’s respective testimonies in particular. Jeantel because she’s been discredited as an admitted liar, and Lauer because she presumably has no favorites in this game (her Twitter account had no tweets, even though it showed she was following Zimmerman’s brother). She has given the jury a clear accounting of Zimmerman’s demeanor that night, and has described what she heard and some of the neighborhood layout. Another witness, interestingly enough, demonstrated how media bias had impacted her opinion of events that happened that night. According to her testimony, she believed it was Trayvon Martin on the bottom in the struggle between the two, but on cross-examination, admitted she went by the “size” of the bodies and what she had to determine who was who were pictures the mainstream media had published of both Zimmerman and Martin – in particular, the images of Martin as a baby-faced kid.
The best witness for the state so far has been resident Selma Mora, who heard the scuffle, and saw who she claimed was Zimmerman “rider style” on Martin (after the gunshot). She did not see anything until after Zimmerman had shot Martin. She testified late Thursday afternoon and could be called back later.
At some point I suspect we’ll hear from two crucial witnesses for the defense who initially said they saw a man in red on the bottom yelling for help. Things should get reaaaaaaaaaalllly interesting then.
Anyway, just a recap of sorts of what’s gone on this week at the trial, which is currently in its fifth day. As they say, stay tuned.