SANFORD — Defence attorneys in the murder trial of neighbourhood watchman George Zimmerman today tried to pick apart the testimony of a key witness who was on the phone with unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin moments before he was gunned down.
Rachel Jeantel, 19, told the court yesterday that shortly before he was fatally shot last year, Martin complained about a “creepy” man who seemed to be hunting him down as he walked back to the house where he was staying with his father in the central Florida town of Sanford.
Martin family lawyer Ben Crump has said Jeantel’s testimony would help undermine Zimmerman’s assertion that he acted in self-defence.
Zimmerman, 29, was a neighbourhood watch volunteer in the Retreat at Twin Lakes community in Sanford at the time of the killing. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and could face life imprisonment if convicted.
Martin was a student at a Miami-area high school and a guest of one of the homeowners. He was returning after buying snacks at a convenience store when he was shot in the chest during a confrontation with Zimmerman.
The racially charged case triggered civil rights protests and debates about the treatment of black Americans in the US justice system, since police did not arrest Zimmerman, who is part Hispanic, for 44 days.
Prosecutors say Zimmerman profiled Martin, suspecting him of being up to no good, and killed him in an act of vigilante justice. The defence says Zimmerman was out doing his job as part of the neighbourhood watch and simply trying to investigate something that he perceived as suspicious.
Zimmerman does not deny killing Martin. He says he did so only after he was attacked and Martin smashed his head repeatedly into a concrete sidewalk.
The prosecution faces a tall order to win a conviction for second-degree murder, and under Florida law must convince all six jurors that Zimmerman acted with “ill will” or “hatred” and “an indifference to human life”.
Under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which was approved in 2005 and has since been copied by about 30 other states, people fearing for their lives can use deadly force without having to retreat from a confrontation, even when it is possible. (Reuters)