Memorable witness from George Zimmerman’s trial puts in extra effort, proves people wrong.
In a Miami auditorium less than three miles from where slain teen Trayvon Martin is buried, his friend Rachel Jeantel on Friday was presented her high school diploma, fulfilling the promise she said she made him.
The moment was even more poignant with Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, looking on.
“Her coming is like having Trayvon there saying, ‘You did it. You proved people wrong,’” Jeantel told Yahoo News.
Jeantel was talking on the phone with Martin, 17, in the last moments of his life on Feb. 26, 2012. The unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, then 28, as the two fought on a dark neighborhood sidewalk in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. The case roused a national conversation about racial profiling, self-defense, gun control, vigilantism, civil rights and more.
Zimmerman, the community’s volunteer crime watchman, maintained he shot in self-defense and was found not guilty during a nationally televised trial last July.
Jeantel was a key prosecution witness, but her demeanor and speech on the stand often detracted from her testimony. Then 19, she used terms such as “creepy” and “cracker” to describe Zimmerman, whom she said was aggressively following Trayvon before their phone call was silenced during the scuffle.
The child of immigrant parents, Jeantel speaks Haitian Creole, Spanish and English, but at times the court reporter and jurors struggled to decipher her dialect and street slang.
Contentious exchanges between the sometimes-testy teen and persnickety defense attorney Don West turned into cultural theater.
“Are you claiming in any way that you don’t understand English?” the gray-haired West asked Jeantel.
She paused and gave him a stare.
“I don’t understand you. I do understand English,” Jeantel replied.
Then when Jeantel was forced to admit she couldn’t read a letter written in cursive, the court of public opinion was cruel. Her spoken English and mannerisms were mocked on social media and elsewhere.
“They called her everything except the child of God,” said Rod Vereen, a Miami defense and civil rights attorney. “Of course she was frustrated. It was like stepping into an arena, and you don’t know the rules.”
Vereen and Jeantel connected shortly before the trial, when a member of her church asked if he would volunteer to represent her. Vereen said he tried to prepare Jeantel as best he could without knowing the government’s strategy, and in the end, he believes prosecutors missed an opportunity.
“I don’t think they understood the importance of how Rachel was going to fit in,” said Vereen, a former prosecutor. “She was the person that brings out the character of Trayvon Martin.”
Source: Yahoo News | Jason Sickles