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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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June 26th, 2013
06:12 PM ET

Credibility of key witness against Zimmerman in question

Rachel Jeantel is a key witness in the murder trial of George Zimmerman – her phone conversation with Trayvon Martin was one of his last before he was shot to death last year.

But will the jury believe her testimony, which began Wednesday and will continue Thursday but is overshadowed by prosecutors’ assertions that she has lied under oath?

At issue is her own account of that evening’s series of phone calls, as well as comments to investigators after Martin’s death in February of last year.

In court on Wednesday, she recounted the final moments of their conversation.

“He said, 'Why are you following me for?’” she explained Martin told Zimmerman. “And I heard a hard-breathing man say, ‘What you doing around here?’”

Next she said she heard a bump and “wet grass sounds,” and then, “I start hearing a little bit of Trayvon saying, ‘Get off, get off.””

That remark had CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Mark NeJame confused.

“When she said that she heard ‘wet grass’ - I am baffled by that, how anybody on a call outside in rainy conditions actually [hear] wet grass?” he said Wednesday on CNN’s “The Lead.”

There are also questions about her earlier remarks to investigators. Jeantel, who is now 19, told investigators she was 16 years old when she was actually 18 at the time.

She also said she had not attended a memorial service for Martin because she was at the hospital, which she has since acknowledged was not true.

Jeantel said she misrepresented her age because she wanted privacy protections available to minors and claimed to have been hospitalized because Martin’s mother was listening to her reason for missing the memorial service.

But how will the jury see her and her broader account of the night?

CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said there are two possibilities: they could either view her as unreliable or as someone who was nervous, caught up in a situation with higher stakes than she was used to.

“She’s a problematic witness, obviously. She’s young, she’s nervous, she doesn’t speak very clearly at all – it’s hard to understand a lot of what she says,” Toobin said.

The key to her story, he said, is her testimony to what Martin told her over the phone about Zimmerman.

“I asked him how the man looked like. He just told me the man looked creepy. Creepy, white,” she said.

Several hours into her courtroom testimony , Toobin said “I haven’t heard anything that discredits her on cross examination for that part of the story because it certainly portrays Zimmerman as the aggressor in the confrontation between the two of them and that’s the issue in the whole case.”

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