A friend who was on the phone with 17-year-old Trayvon Martin moments before he was fatally shot by George Zimmerman testified that she heard the Miami teen shout, “Get off! Get off!” before his telephone went dead.
Rachel Jeantel, 19, recounted to jurors in Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial 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.
Jeantel is considered one of the prosecution’s most important witnesses because she was the last person to talk to Martin before his encounter with Zimmerman on Feb. 26, 2012.
She testified that Martin thought he had evaded the man following him. But she said a short time later Martin let out a profanity.
Martin said Zimmerman was behind him, and she heard Martin ask: “What are you following me for?”
She then heard what sounded like Martin’s phone earpiece drop into the 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 claimed self-defense, saying he opened fire after the teenager jumped him and began slamming his head against the concrete sidewalk. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic and has denied that his confrontation with the black teenager had anything to do with race, as Martin’s family and its supporters have claimed.
Jeantel’s testimony came after two former neighbors of Zimmerman testified Wednesday about hearing howls and shouts for help in the moments before the shooting.
Jayne Surdyka told the court that immediately before the shooting, she heard an aggressive voice and a softer voice exchanging words for several minutes in an area behind her townhome at the Retreat at Twin Lakes.
“It was someone being very aggressive and angry at someone,” she said.
During the struggle, she said, she saw a person in dark clothes on top of the other person. Martin was wearing a dark sweatshirt and Zimmerman wore red clothing. Surdyka said she saw the person who was on top get off the body after the shot was fired.
Surdyka said she heard cries for help and then multiple gunshots: “pop, pop, pop.” Only one shot was fired in the fatal encounter.
“I truly believe the second yell for help was a yelp,” said Surdyka, who later dabbed away tears as prosecutors played her 911 call. “It was excruciating. I really felt it was a boy’s voice.”
During cross-examination, defense attorney Don West tried to show there was a lapse in what Surdyka saw. Defense attorneys contend Martin was on top of Zimmerman during the struggle, but after the neighborhood watch volunteer fired a shot, Zimmerman got on top of Martin.
West also challenged Surdyka about her belief that the cry for help was a boy’s voice, saying she was making an assumption.
The other neighbor, Jeannee Manalo, testified that she believed Zimmerman was on top of Martin, saying he was the bigger of the two based on pictures she saw of Martin on television after the fight. Manalo also described hearing howling, but she couldn’t tell who it was coming from, and then a “help sound” a short time later.
Under cross-examination, defense attorney Mark O’Mara asked why Manalo had never mentioned her belief that Zimmerman was on top in previous police interviews. He also got her to concede that her perception of Martin’s size was based on 5-year-old photos on television that showed a younger and smaller Martin.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.