The prosecution in the George Zimmerman trial has already dropped the ball.
The last thing Trayvon Martin’s parents can do for their son is help send the man who took his life to prison, which is why it was difficult to watch them squirm in the courtroom while Rachel Jeantel delivered two days of headshaking testimony.
Can the jury forgive an 18-year-old girl for being nervous and providing weak testimony in a courtroom? Yes. Jeantel never wanted to be a key witness in a murder trial, never wanted to have to take the stand under oath and help send a stranger to prison for killing her friend.
Can the jury forgive her for becoming frustrated and difficult and snappy during her testimony? Yes. As much as jury members might have disapproved of Jeantel’s day one attitude, I would think they’d understand if a person wasn’t cut out for public speaking, doesn’t know proper courtroom etiquette and might resent being asked difficult questions from men she perceives as defending the enemy.
Can the jury forgive an 18-year old girl who can’t read? Of course.
Can the jury forgive an eyewitness for a lack of intelligence (if that’s the case)? Yes.
Can the jury even forgive a girl who might have lied to police to protect a friend? Yes. As long as there is enough factual evidence presented to prove guilt, a jury could forgive even lies that were told along the way.
Prosecutors in the case have allowed Rachel Jeantel to take the stand, knowing her lack of experience, knowing her emotional state, knowing she’d spread untruths, knowing the harshness she was going to face under cross-examination, knowing her personality and having an idea how she might react to feeling threatened, and NOT knowing the girl couldn’t read.
Now you understand why the parents were squirming.
I saw “A Few Good Men.” Lt. Daniel Kaffee made it clear how important it was to prepare your witnesses for cross-examination. How clear? I’d say crystal. They went over and over the questions the defense might ask of their witnesses, emphasizing that as difficult as this mock cross seems the live cross will be much harsher.
Rachel Jeantel was the “key” witness of the prosecution, for Pete’s sake. And they didn’t know she couldn’t read?
They had a letter she’d written to Trayvon’s Martin mother, but they never bothered to ask Jeantel if she wrote it? What ever happened to that line you hear in nearly every courtroom drama, “If there’s anything you’re not telling us, please let us know now and don’t make us find out while you’re on the stand.”
And it’s not just the exposed illiteracy and false letter that had those in the courtroom gasping.
On Day Two, Jeantel was decidedly more gentile on the stand, which suggests powerfully that the prosecution didn’t instruct her prior to her day one testimony that “the jury might judge you unfavorably if you come off difficult or angry or snarky during cross, and Trayvon’s case can’t afford that.”
No, she was told between Days One and Two, like jurors weren’t going to notice a change in demeanor, like they were just going to forget about the previous day’s testimony?
I’ve said it time and again, this case is NOT about Trayvon Martin the person. This case is about whether an armed man is allowed to track a suspicious character without provocation, and then can be legally forgiven for taking that person’s life when the pursued fights back.
But the prosecuting attorneys are doing one heck of a job of clouding the issue, exposing a “key” witness as an emotionally-motivated liar willing to say anything to produce a guilty verdict. And that a jury can’t forgive.