At a press conference on March 20, 2012, Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump shared a phone interview he had recorded with a Miami girl named Rachel Jeantel.
Crump introduced the girl as “Dee Dee,” a 16-year-old so deep in “puppy love” with Trayvon Martin that she had been hospitalized upon hearing of his shooting death at the hands of George Zimmerman on Feb. 26, 2012.
The media were instantly captivated by the story. CNN studio anchor Kyra Phillips enthused about the “chilling new perspective” added to the case by the testimony of this heartsick girl who was on the phone with Martin when he was shot.
Said CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin. “Trayvon Martin told his friend that someone was following him,” said Hostin. “He was nervous. He was concerned. She explained to him that he should run.”
Hostin summarized that this “was the last conversation that Martin had with anyone, and it also, in my view, dispels the notion of self-defense.” The Dee Dee testimony added new momentum to the case, and the state of Florida took it over two days later.
Like Hostin, many in the media believed that this woman’s testimony confirmed Zimmerman’s guilt, and expectations remained high when Jeantel took her seat in the witness stand at the Seminole County Courthouse Wednesday.
Save for the true believers, the expectations did not survive the afternoon. The plus-size, American-born daughter of Haitian and Dominican parents, 19 at the time of the trial, defied easy description. She was sassy, defiant and all but incomprehensible.
Before she was through, she would test the patience of the prosecution, the defense, the judge and especially the court reporter.
The most pathetic moment in the two days of her testimony occurred when Jeantel, a high school senior, proved unable to read back a letter she was originally alleged to have written. “I don’t read cursive,” she said.
Defense attorney Don West quickly established that Jeantel was 18 at the time of the shooting not 16, that she had not been hospitalized, and that she was not Martin’s girlfriend. He also confirmed that she lied about the hospitalization under oath,
West walked Jeantel through the various stories she had been telling since first going public, emphasizing their discrepancies.
The most significant of those discrepancies was her claim in later interviews of having heard Martin yelling “get off, get off” once he dropped the phone after a physical exchange with Zimmerman.
West made a strong case that these later additions, like much of her story, was manufactured. Jeantel’s inability to keep her story straight reinforced that suggestion.
The fact that state prosecutors first interviewed Jeantel under oath at the home of Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, with Fulton sitting next to her on the couch did not reassure anyone that her testimony was freely given.
In a spectacularly un-coached moment, Jeantel explained that when Martin first saw Zimmerman eying him, he called Zimmerman a “creepy a– cracker.”
It may have been Martin who was doing the racial profiling. When asked, Jeantel denied that the word “cracker” had a racist implication.
On day two West bored into Jeantel’s many inconsistencies in time, space and motive. Although West did not emphasize the state’s future problem at this stage, Jeantel confirmed that Martin had several minutes to return to the house where he was staying – roughly 100 yards from the point where he started running – but never went there.
If the media were shocked, Jeantel surprised the bloggers who had been tracking this case from the beginning only in her oddball extravagance.
They had been anticipating this train wreck since Benjamin Crump tied the alleged 16-year-old “Dee Dee” to the tracks some 15 months earlier.