The Commercial Appeal

Martin friend testifies encounter racially charged

- By Kyle Hightower Associated Press

SANFORD, Fla. — A friend of Trayvon Martin’s who was on the phone with him shortly before his fatal fight with George Zimmerman testified Thursday that she thought the encounter was racially charged.

Rachel Jeantel testified for the second day in a row, saying she thought race was an issue because Martin told her he was being followed by a white man.

“He was being followed,” Jeantel said.

Her answer came in response to questionin­g from defense attorney Don West about why she had given differing accounts about what she had heard over the phone when Martin first encountere­d Zimmerman on a rainy night on Feb. 26, 2012, at the Retreat at Twin Lakes townhome complex.

West suggested in his cross- examinatio­n that 18-year- old Jeantel had raised the racial issue in some accounts but not others. In some accounts, West implied, Jeantel said Zimmerman responded one way when he first encountere­d Martin, but in other accounts she said he responded another way. Jeantel gave her version of events in a deposi- tion, in a letter to Martin’s mother and in a recorded interview with an attorney for the Martin family.

Jeantel is one of the prosecutio­n’s most important witnesses because she bolsters the contention that Zimmerman was the aggressor. She was on the phone with Martin moments before he was fatally shot.

Jeantel testified Wednesday that her friend’s last words were “Get off! Get off!” before the 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.

Jeantel recounted to jurors on Wednesday how Martin told her he was being followed by a man as he walked through the townhome complex on his way back from a convenienc­e store to the home of his father’s fiancee.

She testified that Martin described the man following him as “a creepy-ass cracker” and he thought he had evaded him. But she said Martin told her a short time later the man was still behind him, and she told him to run.

Martin said Zimmerman was behind him and she heard Martin ask: “What are you following me for?”

In one account, according to West, she said Zimmerman responds, “What are you doing around here?” In another account, according to West, she says Zimmerman said, “What are you talking about?”

She then heard what sounded like Martin’s phone earpiece dropping into wet grass, and she heard him say, “Get off! Get off!” The phone then went dead, she said.

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