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Friend on phone with Martin at time of death: I heard him say 'Get off, get off'

Rachel Jeantel, the witness that was on the phone with Trayvon Martin just before he died, gives her testimony during George Zimmerman's trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla., on June 26. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Rachel Jeantel, the witness that was on the phone with Trayvon Martin just before he died, gives her testimony during George Zimmerman's trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla., on June 26. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.Jacob Langston / Orlando Sentinel Pool via AP

Editor’s note: This story contains racially charged language which may offend some readers.

A 19-year-old woman who was on the phone with Trayvon Martin moments before his death testified that she heard the start of a confrontation between the teen and another man who Martin believed was following him the night he was shot.

“I kind of heard Trayvon say, ‘Get off, get off,’”  Rachel Jeantel said in a Sanford, Fla., courtroom Wednesday. “Then suddenly the phone hung up, shut off.”

Jeantel, who is considered a key witness for the prosecution, said it was the last time she ever spoke to Martin.

Taking the stand on the third day of witness testimony in George Zimmerman’s murder trial, Jeantel said Martin used a variety of racial slurs — including both “cracker” and “nigga” — to describe the man who he believed was following him.

When prosecutor Bernie De La Rionda asked why Martin would use the n-word to describe Zimmerman, Jeantel said, “That’s slang.”

The 17-year-old Martin said he ran from the man and told Jeantel he believed he had evaded him, she testified.

But moments later, Jeantel said the man was face-to-face with Martin and she heard her friend ask: “Why are you following me for?”

She said she then heard a bump, which she believed was Martin’s cellphone headset hitting the ground before being disconnected. When Jeantel called back, there was no answer.

During cross examination, defense attorney Don West asked Jeantel about inaccurate statements she made to Martin’s family and lawyer after the shooting, including lying about being in the hospital at the time of Martin’s funeral.

On Wednesday she said she made the story up because she did not want to see the body of her dead friend, she said.

“You got to understand … you were the last person to talk to a person and he died on the phone after you talk[ed] to him,” she told West. “You don’t know how I felt. You think I really wanted to go see the body after I just talked to him?”

Jeantel also said during her testimony that she lied about her age to the Zimmerman family attorney, saying she was only 16 in the hopes of maintaining more privacy as a minor.

Before the Miami woman took the stand, jurors listened to calls Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, placed to a police non-emergency line in the months prior the shooting. In the the five calls placed over a six month period the defendant expressed concern about what he called suspicious individuals in his neighborhood.

Prosecutors pushed for the calls to be admitted as evidence, saying they point to  Zimmerman's state of mind on the night of the shooting, after growing frustrated over crime near his home.  

Zimmerman’s defense team argued the calls are irrelevant and the only issue before the court is what happened in the moments leading up to Martin's death.

Also taking the stand on Wednesday were two of the of the defendant’s former neighbors who said they heard cries for help the night of the shooting, with one saying she thought the plea came from a boy.

Jane Surdyka, who lived in the Twin Lakes neighborhood and placed a 911 call the night of the Feb. 26, 2012 shooting, said she heard a young person cry out and that she heard multiple gunshots.

“In my opinion, I truly believe the second yell for help was like a yelp, it was [unintelligible], I really felt it was the boy’s voice.”

Surdyka's emotional emergency call was played for the court, prompting Sybrina Fulton, Martin's mother, to bury her head in her hands as the tape played.

But while Surdyka said she heard multiple “pops” the night of the shooting, lawyers for the defense countered that Zimmerman fired only once in self-defense. And while being questioned by Zimmerman's lawyers, Surdyka said she had never heard the voice of either 17-year-old Martin or 29-year-old Zimmerman before that night.  

"You don't know who had the higher voice, or who had the stronger, more dominant voice," West asked of the unemployed hospital worker.

West used his cross examination to question Surdyka’s conclusion that she heard a younger male yelling for help.

“So when you say you heard Trayon Martin’s voice before, you’re saying that it was your opinion that you were listening to his voice as the softer of the two in the argument?” he added.

Another neighbor, Jeannee Manalo, also testified to that she heard a cry for help and heard a gun shot on the rainy February night last year.

Manalo said she witnessed two men on the ground struggling near her home, though at the time she could not identify either of the two, originally telling investigators she could not even identify their genders.

After seeing news reports that showed the two, Manalo said, she could identify that it was Zimmerman on top of Martin as they wrestled on the ground.

“I believe it was Zimmerman, comparing the size of their body,” she told the court.

Defense attorney Mark O’Mara then asked what picture of Martin she used to judge the teenager’s size, to which Manalo pointed to the frequently published head shot of Martin wearing a hooded sweatshirt similar to the one he was wearing the night of his death.

O'Mara pointed out that the photograph of just Martin’s head would not be a good way to judge the size of Martin's body.

Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder charges, claiming he was acting in self-defense and that Martin jumped on him and began slamming his head into a sidewalk.

Editor's note: George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company strongly denies the allegation.