On Wednesday, the State of Florida continued to put on its case/evidence in day 12 of the George Zimmerman trial, with four of its key witnesses testifying and then each answering tough and thorough cross examination questions from the Zimmerman defense team.
The four witnesses were Jayne Surdyka, a former neighbor of George Zimmerman, recall witness and Seminole County Sheriff's Office communications manager Ramona Rumph, another former neighbor of George Zimmerman’s Jeannee Manalo (who testified that it was her husband who was the person that police sergeant Sgt. Tony Raimondo said grabbed a shopping bag to try to help seal Martin's wound Tuesday), and Rachel Jeantel, the teenager Martin was on the phone with right before he was shot and killed.
Jayne Surdyka testified that she heard “a boy's cry” for help shortly before hearing the teen's fatal shooting, but also testified that she heard multiple gunshots (her home overlooked the shooting location.) Admitted evidence had been introduced by the State of Florida on Tuesday that only one shot was fired in the fatal encounter, however. Surdyka also testified that she was in a second-floor bedroom of her townhome when she heard scuffling outside on a rainy night on February 26, 2012 and she testified that heard an aggressive voice and a softer voice exchanging words for several minutes, then heard cries for help, ending her testimony saying that she believed it was “a boy's voice crying out. It sounded like a younger individual,” Surdyka testified.
Seminole County Sheriff's Office communications manager Ramona Rumph was re-called as a witness for the State and testified as to the previous calls to police by Zimmerman about prior suspicious neighborhood activity all involving the reported suspicious activities of Black males in the complex.
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 lived closer to the scene. She stated that she “heard a howling sound, I didn't see anything then heard yelling for help and saw two people on the ground.” Manalo further testified that she saw “two people on the grass one on top, and then a neighbor asked if they needed help. The person on top was hitting the other.”
"I heard a shot. I told my husband. He went out [to see about the noise]" said Manalo.
Under cross-examination, defense attorney Mark O'Mara asked why she had never mentioned her belief that Zimmerman was on top in previous police interviews with Manalo conceding on cross that her perception of Martin's size was based on five-year-old photos she had seen of him on television that showed a younger and smaller Martin.
Then there was the testimony of State’s witness Rachel "Diamond" Jeantel to end the day’s testimony from the State’s witnesses. Jeantel, a 19-year-old friend of the slain teen from the Miami area, is considered one of the prosecution's most important witnesses because she was the last person to talk to Martin.
She testified that on February 26, 2012, the date of Trayvon Martin’s death, that she and Martin “text and talked and talked the whole day” and testified that while on the phone with Martin, he told her a man was following him, someone he described as a "creepy-a*s cracker.” She also testified on direct that the man got close enough to Martin that she could hear the man say “What are you doing around here?”
But it was the scene on cross-examination between Jeantel and Zimmerman defense counsel Donald R. West, Esq. that set the stage for the most memorable events for Wednesday. Any advantage gained by the State from her earlier direct testimony may have been lost by the spectacle she created in court when she testified on cross examination. She was combative and defiant, and talked so softly that it was often impossible to make out her words inside the courtroom. The court reporter interrupted her a dozen times, asking her to repeat herself along with jurors interrupting too. Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson instructed them, "You can't ask questions. If you can't understand, just raise your hand."
Jeantel admitted to two lies in testimony on cross-examination. She testified that she told Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, and family attorney Benjamin Crump shortly after the shooting that she was 16 when she really was 18. She testified that she wanted Fulton to think she was a minor, just as Martin was, and she said she lied, again to Fulton and Crump, when she said she had missed Martin's wake because she was in a hospital because she said, she did not want to see his body.
Jeantel's testimony capped a tough Wednesday for prosecutors. The most anticipated witness of the trial, she spent about two and one half hours on the witness stand and is to return at 9 a.m. Thursday for more, when West is scheduled to continue his cross-examination. When West told the judge he expects that to last about two more hours, Jeantel blurted out, "What?"
ANALYSIS: The defense had a good day Wednesday. Period. And, if the State’s witness Rachel "Diamond" Jeantel continues to unravel under the cross-examination by Zimmerman defense counsel Donald R. West, Esq. today, one can argue that the damage done to the State’s case against George Zimmerman may have irreparable damage. She was combative and defiant, and as the old folks in East. St. Louis, Illinois where I grew up used to say, “She acted ugly.” This is not my criticism of the teen, who is likely still grieving the loss of her friend and coping with the trauma of being so closely tied to his death, but my professional opinion as an attorney. Indeed, one could argue that a jury may say “Well, if the victim ran around and associated with people like this woman (Jeantel) then the victim may have not been the person that the State of Florida has led us to believe.” As far as the prosecution and their preparation of Jeantel for testimony, I suspect they may have done all that they can do. I have never heard a witness exclaim to a court room “I ain’t coming back tomorrow” or something to that effect.
Keep in mind constitutionally it is the burden of the state to prove its case. It is not the burden of the defense to prove its innocence. The defense has to prove nothing and is not required to put on any evidence at all. That is the cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution. Make sure you always understand that fact (and how damning it may be for those who wish to see Zimmerman punished for killing Trayvon Martin).
A licensed attorney in Orlando, Florida, Joseph Haynes Davis is also a broadcaster with over 30 years of broadcast media experience. He is also the legal analyst for the State of Florida v. Zimmerman trial for the “Doug Banks Show,” the Andre Michael Eggelletion Show and several other national radio programs. Follow him on Twitter: @sivadmedia and @con_speaking and check out his website and political blog.