By Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY
SANFORD, Fla. - Rachel Jeantel and Don West aren't likely to be BFFs anytime soon.
Jeantel, a key prosecution witness in the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman, ended her second day of testimony Thursday, but not before another often contentious exchange in a series of contentious exchanges with West, a Zimmerman defense attorney.
Jeantel, a 19-year-old high school senior, was a friend of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old shot to death in a February 2012 scuffle with Zimmerman. Jeantel was having a telephone conversation with Trayvon in the moments leading up to his death.
Before stepping down from the witness stand, she scoffed at a suggestion by West that Martin had initiated the altercation. "That's real retarded,'' she told West under cross-examination.
Zimmerman, 29, has said he acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Trayvon minutes after calling police to report that he was following a suspicious person. The prosecution says Zimmerman profiled and murdered the black teen. If convicted of second-degree murder, Zimmerman could be sentenced to life in prison.
Jeantel testified that from her conversation with Trayvon, she believed his encounter with Zimmerman was racially charged because Trayvon told her he was being followed through the neighborhood by a white man. Jeantel said Trayvon told her he was being followed by a "creepy a-- cracker."
H. Alexander Duncan, 33, watched testimony in the public seating area. Several people in his section, Duncan said, were making light of the testy exchanges. Duncan, however, said he understood what was going on.
"Her and Don West were frustrated with having to deal with each other," he said. "It wasn't him personally attacking her. It was the buildup of his lack of understanding and the cultural divide. For her, it was the reverse."
Duncan said both were out of their element, Jeantel in an unfamiliar courtroom setting and West having to speak to a teenager from a different cultural background.
Over the course of his cross-examination, West questioned discrepancies in Jeantel's testimony and her prior statements to law enforcement officials, attorneys and Trayvon's family. They were among several testy exchanges in which West tried to shake her testimony and get jurors to doubt her credibility.
Jeantel said there were inconsistencies because of some of the questions posed by state attorneys and law enforcement officials as well as the length of the interviews. She also said she omitted some details of what she knew because she was trying to spare Trayvon's family grief.
The back-and-forth between West and Jeantel intensified as West repeatedly asked why she didn't call police after Trayvon told her he was being followed. West accused Jeantel of not calling police after Trayvon's phone went dead because she thought he was in a fight he had provoked.
"That's why you weren't worried. That's why you didn't do anything -- because Trayvon Martin started the fight, and you knew that," West said.
"No sir!" Jeantel said. "I don't know what you're talking about."
She said she didn't call police because she thought Trayvon was near his father's home and that his father or others would help him.
At one point, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson asked West to lower his voice as he asked Jeantel if she knew whether Martin used his fist and drove it into Zimmerman's face. She did not, Jeantel said. Nelson asked West to step back from Jeantel as he leaned over her while going over Trayvon's cellphone records from the night of the shooting.
Jeantel, visibly agitated at times, often said "no sir" and "yes sir" as she was grilled about inconsistencies in her testimony and statements to police and lawyers. Later, Nelson stepped in as West questioned Jeantel about a transcript of her interview with state attorneys in April 2012.
"Don't ask your question while she's trying to finish her answer," Nelson said to West. Moments later, Nelson addressed Jeantel: "Wait until Mr. West finishes his answer."
West said he believes state attorneys "walked her down a path" to get her to say Trayvon was saying "get off" him before being shot. Jeantel, however, was adamant that that's what she heard.
Thursday's testimony began with a more subdued tone than it did a day earlier, when Jeantel frequently bristled at West's questions. Taking note of her demeanor, West told her, "You seem different than yesterday."
"I got some sleep," Jeantel said.
Contributing: Gary Strauss in McLean, Va.. Associated Press