and Kyle Hightower
SANFORD, FLA.: George Zimmerman’s defense attorney insisted during several testy exchanges with an important prosecution witness Thursday that Trayvon Martin injected race into a confrontation with the neighborhood watch volunteer and insinuated the young woman was not believable because of inconsistencies in her story.
Rachel Jeantel, 19, stood firm in her testimony about the night Zimmerman shot the unarmed black 17-year-old after a fight that Jeantel said she overheard while on the phone with Martin. Jeantel has said Martin told her he was being followed by a “creepy-ass cracker” — implying Martin was being followed by a white man because of his race.
Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic. Race has permeated nationwide discussions of the case since the February 2012 shooting, which prompted nationwide protests and claims from critics that police took too long to arrest Zimmerman.
The neighborhood watch volunteer has pleaded not guilty and says he acted in self-defense.
Defense attorney Don West also zeroed in on slight differences among three different accounts of what happened before Martin’s killing, in an apparent effort to discredit her. Jeantel has described what she heard over the phone in a deposition, a letter to Martin’s mother, and an interview with the Martin family attorney. Among the differences highlighted by West:
•?In some accounts, she said race was an issue but not in others.
•?Jeantel testified Wednesday that her friend’s last words were “Get off! Get off!” before Martin’s 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.
•?After Martin asks why he is being followed, Zimmerman responds, “What are you doing around here?” in one account by Jeantel.
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.