By Barbara Liston
SANFORD, Florida (Reuters) – Prosecutors in the Florida murder trial of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman will reveal a star witness for the first time on Tuesday, the girl Trayvon Martin was talking with in the last minutes of his life.
The teenage girl, known as Witness #8 until now, was due to testify about what Martin, the unarmed black 17-year-old shot and killed by Zimmerman last year, told her what he saw that night.
Identified in court on Monday only as Rachel, a friend of Martin from Miami, she received a running account about what was happening, starting when he noticed a man, Zimmerman, watching him in the gated central Florida community he was visiting.
Zimmerman, 29 and part Hispanic, was a neighborhood watch volunteer in the Retreat at Twin Lakes community in Sanford at the time of the February 26, 2012, killing. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and could face life imprisonment if convicted.
The racially charged case triggered civil rights protests and debates about the treatment of black Americans in the U.S. justice system, since police did not arrest Zimmerman for 44 days.
To win a conviction for second-degree murder, the prosecution must convince jurors that Zimmerman acted with “ill will, hatred, spite or an evil intent,” and “an indifference to human life,” according to Florida jury instructions.
In previous written testimony, Rachel described Martin as scared and trying to get away from the man. She was urging him to run. She last heard Martin say, “why are you following me” after which she said she heard what sounded like Martin falling. Then the phone line went dead.
The Martin family lawyer, Ben Crump, has said her testimony helps destroy Zimmerman’s claim that he acted in self-defense.
Zimmerman placed a four-minute phone call to police when he first spotted Martin, telling a dispatcher that the Miami teen looked “real suspicious.”
Martin was a student at a Miami-area high school and a guest of one of the homeowners. He was walking back to the house after buying snacks at a nearby convenience store when he was shot in the chest during a confrontation with Zimmerman.
Also on Tuesday, lawyers will continue to dissect witness testimony about Zimmerman’s call to police. Jurors heard the ‘suspicious person’ call three times on Monday, twice during the opening statements and again during witness testimony.
In opening statements Monday, the prosecution portrayed Zimmerman as a man with a concealed weapon who committed a vigilante-style killing. The defense suggested that Martin was the aggressor, and Zimmerman acted to protect his own life.
Six jurors, all women, were selected last week to hear the case. Florida law requires a minimum of six jurors except in cases where the death penalty is sought.
Under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which was approved in 2005 and has since been copied by about 30 other states, people fearing for their lives can use deadly force without having to retreat from a confrontation, even when it is possible.
(Editing by David Adams and Doina Chiacu)
[Image: Marion Evans (L), the grandmother of Trayvon Martin, and mother of Trayvon Martin Sybrina Fulton (R), react as they listen to the description of Trayvon Martin's death, during opening arguments of the George Zimmerman trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Florida, June 24, 2013. By Joe Burbank for REUTERS/Pool]