The grueling cross-examination of 19 year-old Rachel Jeantel, the key prosecution witness in the George Zimmerman murder trial, continued Thursday afternoon, and got heated when defense attorney Don West repeatedly tried to offer defense theories as part of his questioning. At one point, West speculated that Trayvon Martin might have been lying to Ms. Jeantel when he told her, during their phone call moments before his death, that he’d almost reached his father’s home.
West asked why Trayvon Martin “decided to approach this man and say ‘why you following me,” when he could have “just run home.”
“He was already by his house,”Jeantel replied. “He told me.”
“Of course, you don’t know if he was telling you the truth or not,” West speculated.
“Why he need to lie about that, sir?” Jeantel asked, skeptically.
West paused for a few seconds, then offered, “Maybe if he decided to assault George Zimmerman, he didn’t want you to know about it.”
Jeantel, whose testimony has been characterized by blunt language and irritability with the defense attorney, told West “That’s real retarded, sir,” and added “You don’t know the person. You do not know him.”
After a break, West continued to cross-examine Jeantel, and having already gotten her to agree, once, to the clause that Trayvon Martin had “decided to approach” Zimmerman, tried to nail that point home, along with repeated suggestions that Martin had decided to “assault” Zimmerman. What Jeantel did was correct West, and steadfastly course-correct on that point.
“It was just a fight that Trayvon Martin started,” West said. “That’s why you weren’t worried. That’s why you didn’t do anything. It’s because Trayvon Martin started the fight and you knew that.”
After an overruled prosecution objection, Jeantel replied “No, sir. I had told you before, I did not know this man was out of jail. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
After several laborious minutes spent establishing that Jeantel believed Trayvon was walking, West said “At the point, though, where he tells you that he sees the man again, or as he said, the man’s right there, he decides to approach the man and say, why you following me for?”
Over a sustained objection, Jeantel calmly replied, “No, sir.”
“There’s no question in your mind, is it, that Trayvon Martin, based upon what you said and what you — what he said and what you heard, that he approached the man and said, why you following more for?”
After another objection, he rephrased. “You believed, at that point, that Trayvon Martin approached the man and said, why you following me for?”
“No, sir,” Jeantel repeated.
“You want to explain that?” West asked.
“Trayvon told me the man was behind him and kept being close by him,” she responded, and added “the man was behind Trayvon, sir.”
Denied the opportunity to have Trayvon Martin “approach” Zimmerman, West tried to at least leave some ambiguity on that point by asking “In any event, your sense of it was they got close together at that point.”
“He got close to Trayvon, yes, sir,” Jeantel clarified.
West then switched to trying to get Jeantel to say that she knew, at that point, that there was going to be a fight, but again, she would not yield.
The defense has been laboriously cross-examining Jeantel for several hours, cultivating a very hostile dynamic between West and the already-reluctant witness. It’s possible that they think Rachel Jeantel’s blunt language and irritable demeanor will play badly with the jury, but her unvarnished qualities also might serve to lend credibility to her testimony, overall. The defense has spent a lot of time trying to impeach her testimony, but as far as the facts from the night of the murder, the yield has been thin.
West’s questioning, meanwhile, has been at once glacial and microscopic, covering minutes worth of ground in hours. If his strategy is to irritate Rachel Jeantel, he is succeeding, but the members of the jury are also susceptible to irritation. If he has points to make (like her fib to avoid the trauma of seeing her friend’s body, or the inconsistent statements she’s made about what Zimmerman said when Trayvon asked him why he was following him), he should make them, and move on.
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