Woman says she heard confrontation in Fla. murder case; defense pokes holes in her story
SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — A former neighbor of George Zimmerman testified Wednesday that she heard a boy’s cry for help shortly before hearing the firing of a gun.
But Jayne Surdyka also testified on the third day of testimony in Zimmerman’s murder trial that she heard multiple gunshots: “pop, pop, pop.” Only one shot was fired in the fatal encounter between Zimmerman and 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
“I truly believe the second yell for help was a yelp,” said Surdyka, who later dabbed away tears as prosecutors played her 911 call. “It was excruciating. I really felt it was a boy’s voice.”
Surdyka told the court that before the shooting, she heard an aggressive voice and a softer voice exchanging words for several minutes.
“It was someone being very aggressive and angry at someone,” she said.
During the struggle, she said, she saw a person in dark clothes on top of the other person. Martin was wearing a dark sweatshirt and Zimmerman wore red clothing. Surdyka said she saw the person who was on top get off the body after the shot was fired.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Don West tried to show there was a lapse in what Surdyka saw. Defense attorneys contend Martin was on top of Zimmerman during the struggle, but after the neighborhood watch volunteer fired a shot, Zimmerman got on top of Martin.
West also challenged Surdyka about her belief that the cry for help was a boy’s voice, saying she was making an assumption about whose voice it was.
Another neighbor, Jeannee Manalo, testified after Surdyka that she believed Zimmerman was on top of Martin. Manalo also described hearing howling, but she couldn’t tell who it was coming from.
Under cross-examination, defense attorney Mark O’Mara asked why she had never mentioned her belief that Zimmerman was on top in previous police interviews. He made her read back a transcript of an interview in which she described only seeing shadows.
Other neighbors also have described hearing cries for help that were captured on their calls to 911. Martin’s parents have said they came from their son, while Zimmerman’s father has said he believes the cries belong to his son. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys believe they could show whether Zimmerman or Martin was the aggressor in the encounter at the Retreat at Twin Lakes townhome complex on Feb. 26, 2012. Defense attorneys successfully argued against allowing prosecution experts who claimed the cries belonged to Martin.
Also Wednesday, Judge Debra Nelson announced that an alternate juror — a young, Hispanic man — had been dismissed for reasons unrelated to the case. The judge also ruled that she would allow at trial five police dispatch calls Zimmerman made in the months before his encounter with Martin.
Prosecutors want to use the calls to bolster their argument that Zimmerman was increasingly frustrated with repeated burglaries and had reached a breaking point the night he shot the unarmed teenager. Prosecutors played the calls for the judge Tuesday with the jurors out of the courtroom.
The recordings show Zimmerman’s “ill will,” prosecutor Richard Mantei said.
“It shows the context in which the defendant sought out his encounter with Trayvon Martin,” he said.
O’Mara argued that the calls were irrelevant and that nothing matters but the seven or eight minutes before Zimmerman fired the deadly shot into Martin’s chest.
In the calls, Zimmerman identifies himself as a neighborhood watch volunteer and recounts that his neighborhood has had a rash of recent break-ins. In one call, he asks that officers respond quickly since the suspects “typically get away quickly.”
In another, he describes suspicious black men hanging around a garage and mentions his neighborhood had a recent garage break-in.
Zimmerman, 29, could get life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder for gunning down Martin as the young man walked from a convenience store. Zimmerman followed him in his truck and called a police dispatch number before he and the teen got into a fight.
Zimmerman has claimed self-defense, saying he opened fire after the teenager jumped him and began slamming his head against the concrete sidewalk.
Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, has denied the confrontation with the black teenager had anything to do with race, as Martin’s family and its supporters have charged.
KYLE HIGHTOWER and MIKE SCHNEIDER
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