WASHINGTON, June 28, 2013 —Rachel Jeantel was the last person besides George Zimmerman to talk to Trayvon Martin, and she was back on the witness stand Thursday for cross examination from the defense.
On Wednesday Rachel Jeantel seemed hostile and confused, but on Thursday she seemed much better prepared. While it was clear she did not like the defense attorney and that the witness box was about the last place she wanted to be, she was a much better witness for the prosecution under cross examination than during her original testimony.
Perhaps Jeantel was more comfortable in the daunting environment the second day, or maybe, as she stated, it was that she had gotten a good night’s sleep, but in testimony yesterday she was much clearer. She came much closer to doing what the state attorneys had hoped she would do, set a timeline and provide testimony that contradicts Zimmerman’s story about the confrontation between the two men.
Don West, George Zimmerman’s attorney, kept Jeantel on the stand for hours, grilling her hard on everything from her testimony yesterday to her education and diction.
Some legal experts have questioned whether it was a wise strategy to keep this witness on the stand for as long as he did and to be so hard on a young woman who is obviously so uncomfortable in the environment. The initial results seem split, but many female pundits believe West pushed too far and at times seemed to be bullying the witness. The judge even requested that he lower his voice when speaking to Jeantel at one point.
This strategy may create sympathy for Jeantel, and acrimony against West, from the all-female jury.
West is an experienced lawyer who should have been able to make his case swiftly and efficiently, a strategy he chose not to pursue.
At one point West asked the witness if she was feeling okay. He said he was asking because she seemed so different than she had seemed the previous day on the stand. In her low, quiet voice, Jeantel said she was fine and that she had slept. West continued with the questioning wanting to know if anyone had spoken to her about how to behave in court.
West clearly suggested Jeantel had been coached in her testimony after her disastrous experience the day before. It would be acceptable for prosecution attorneys to remind a witness about demeanor in court, but not to recommend answers to defense questions.
Asking whether Jeantel had spoken to anyone about her testimony or whether she had received coaching would have been an obvious and acceptable question, but when West asked if she was “feeling okay” he came across as rude and sarcastic.
A particularly uncomfortable moment came when Don West asked Rachel Jeantel to read from a piece of paper. The paper contained a statement she had allegedly written that was sent to Trayvon’s mother. Jeantel reported that she was not able to read script writing. Jeantel was forced to explain that she dictated the letter to a friend who had written it for her because she is not able to write very well.
A similarly painful moment happened when West asked Jeantel “what wet grass sounds like,” referring to her now well-known testimony from the previous day. West’s demeanor when he asked the question was provocative and belittling, rather than sounding like he wanted clarification. Jeantel clarified that she meant that she heard sounds of someone rolling around on the wet grass.
The hostility was crystal clear not just from West to the witness but also from Jeantel to the defense attorney.
Rachel Jeantel punctuated each of her answers with “yes, Sir,” but her words were far from respectful.
Jeantel had moments on the stand Thusday that had spectators wondering if she was going to spiral as she had the day before, such as when she responded to a question with “that’s retarded” and when she referred to the defense attorney as “the bald man.” But overall her answers were firm and unwavering when challenged.
Jeantel did not take the bait when West asked if she sometimes gets confused when people are speaking English since her first language was Spanish Creole, and she did not back down when West insisted Jeantel said she “could’ve heard Trayvon” say, “Get off! Get off!” when questioned by prosecutors on April 2, 2012.
“I said, ‘Could hear Trayvon’,” Jeantel firmly stated.
The opinions of spectators and attorneys of a witness are nothing more than a curiosity. The important thing is how is a jury reacts to a witness.
Two of the jurors, E-6 and E-40, hardly ever looked up during the entire seven hours that Rachel Jeantel was on the stand. They were completely engaged and wrote down virtually every word she said.
In dramatic contrast, juror B-29, the only juror of color, seemed clearly to not like Rachel Jeantel. She spent the whole time the witness was on the stand refusing to look at her and instead looked straight ahead at the attorneys.
Legal experts believe that this testimony could split the jury, and that if the decision comes back as a hung jury, it could be because of this witness. Some will see her as a flawed young woman who is doing the best she can. She clearly is not looking to make Trayvon Martin appear any different than what he is, and just trying to tell the truth now that she is on the stand. Others will see her as simply not credible or likeable.
With only two days of testimony logged in the trial, observers are already predicting outcomes. There likely will be numerous momentum changes and shifts as the trial continues.