One Year After Zimmerman’s Acquittal, the ‘Train Wreck’ Witness Speaks Out

One year ago Sunday, the man who shot Rachel Jeantel’s friend was acquitted.

She blames herself for that “a little bit.”

As she testified in the contentious trial of George Zimmerman, the man who shot the black teenager Trayvon Martin and sparked a nationwide debate over race relations and gun control, Jeantel became the butt of jokes and the object of passionate defenses.

A year later, she is pursuing her education and speaking out about the case.

Rachel Jeantel, the witness that was on the phone with Trayvon Martin just before he died, gives her testimony during George Zimmerman’s trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla. Wednesday, June 26, 2013. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Jacob Langston/AP

Jeantel was the prosecution’s star witness, yet her testimony was a combative, profanity-laced “train wreck” that likely contributed to Zimmerman’s acquittal.

Jeantel’s curt, colloquial language prompted attorneys to ask her to speak up and repeat herself time and again during the trial, eventually eliciting an exasperated, “Are you listening?” from Jeantel.

She told CNN this week that she wishes she had “acted different” on the witness stand.

Rachel Jeantel one year after George Zimmerman's acquittal. (Image source: screen grab via YouTube)
Rachel Jeantel one year after George Zimmerman’s acquittal. (Image source: screen grab via YouTube)

“[The jury] judge how they talk, how they look, how they dress,” Jeantel said.

The trial may have been disastrous for her, but it gave her exposure to those who wanted to help.

After academic assessments showed that Jeantel’s reading and math skills were at the level of an elementary school student, Miami attorney Ron Vereen organized a “village” of mentors and tutors to aid the struggling young woman, and the work paid off: in May, Jeantel received her high school diploma.

She may pursue a college education.

While she’s moving on with her life, Jeantel still had words for the man who, in self-defense or not, slew her friend.

“He did wrong, and he’s got to man up to it,” she said. “To me, you’re not a man, George Zimmerman’s not a man. That’s still a little boy, with a grown body.”

Watch the interview here:

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