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Zimmerman neighbors recall screams as key witness steps down

June 28, 2013|By Tina Susman

Lawyers trying to prove that George Zimmerman stalked and murdered unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin will resume their focus on the scene of the crime and the screams that startled residents of a Florida housing complex as Zimmerman's trial enters its fifth day of testimony Friday.

Selma Mora, who lived in the Sanford, Fla., gated community where Zimmerman shot Martin to death on Feb. 26, 2012, returns to the stand to continue testimony that started Thursday afternoon.

Mora, whose testimony has been translated from Spanish in court, is one of several neighbors who heard loud voices and screams outside on the rainy evening that Martin and Zimmerman crossed paths.

GRAPHIC: Who's who in the Trayvon Martin case

A dramatic 911 call from one of those neighbors, Jenna Lauer, was played in the courtroom Thursday. Lauer testified that she heard "yelps" that sounded as if someone was in desperate need of help.

Lauer said she had been watching TV in her living room -- a recording of "Celebrity Apprentice" -- with her husband when she heard voices outside. Like other witnesses earlier, she said she thought it odd that someone would be out walking around in the pouring rain.

Lauer also said she was unable to make out the words being spoken. "It just sounded like loud talking," she testified.

Then, whoever was out there began "scuffling around," said Lauer, describing the sound of shoes shuffling across the pavement a few feet from her back door. After a little while, the sound changed, and she sensed that whatever was happening outside was coming closer to her back sliding glass door.

"It kind of sounded like wrestling. At one point it sounded like they were about to come through the screen," she said when asked how close the people were to her residence.

The voices by then had "turned into a grunting. Then it gradually turned into yelping," said Lauer, who dialed 911. "They were saying 'help.'"

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On the recording, the cries for help can be heard in the background. So can the crack of a gunshot, which ended the yelling.

Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense after the 17-year-old jumped him. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. Prosecutors say Zimmerman racially profiled Martin, who was African American, and instigated the confrontation.

The description of screams heard by neighbors is important because each side wants to prove its version of who was   screaming. Nobody has been able to definitely say whether it was Zimmerman or Martin calling for help.

Lauer said she and her husband fled upstairs to their bedroom to get as far away from the gunfire as possible. Lauer testified that she could not determine who was calling for help but that she was sure it was the same person crying over and over because the voice did not change.

In her testimony, Mora said she also heard yells -- she recalled hearing two screams -- and a gunshot.  She described peering outside into the rainy night to see a man -- since then known to be Zimmerman -- pacing back and forth, one hand holding the back of his head.

"He was acting ... in a concerned manner," she said. "In a way like ... confused."

Mora also said she had seen one person lying atop another unmoving person on the grass outside her apartment but that it was too dark to make out their faces or to say what race they were.

Lauer and Mora took the stand after several hours of testimony from Rachel Jeantel, 19, the last person to speak to Martin before he died. Jeantel was on a phone call with Martin when he first encountered Zimmerman as he walked back to the townhouse where his father was staying with his girlfriend.

Martin was visiting the housing complex and had gone out to buy candy and a soft drink when he crossed paths with Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in the complex.

In her testimony, which the defense spent hours trying to discredit, Jeantel said she heard Martin ask someone who was following him why he was doing so. She also said she heard what sounded like a scuffle and a "bump," which she believed was Martin's telephone headpiece falling to the ground, before the phone went dead.

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