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

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June 27th, 2013
07:07 PM ET

Analysis: If jury believes witness, self-defense is off the table for Zimmerman

Rachel Jeantel did not seem as easily rattled on the stand Thursday, compared with Wednesday's cross examination, when she often appeared combative and frustrated with the defense.

Still, her body language hinted that the witness box was pretty much the last place she wanted to be. But she chose to answer the bulk of the defense attorney's questions with a short, "Yes, sir."

"I think she came across more often than not just very raw, very authentic, not coached. But there was a difference between her demeanor yesterday and today," said CNN contributor Sunny Hostin.

Jeantel is a reluctant witness, saying she did not want to come forward from the very beginning.

"When you speak to jurors, those reluctant witnesses are the ones they tend to believe a bit more, because they're not stealth, they're not trying to write a book, they're not trying to be flamboyant, they're just being authentic," said Hostin.

One key moment examined Thursday was whether or not Jeantel actually heard Martin telling Zimmerman to get off of him, or if she said she could have heard Martin say that.

"It's a big difference, but it also plays into a larger theme of the cross-examination, which is any time there was an ambiguity in the testimony, Rachel made it more incriminating. That it wasn't just a mistake but all the mistakes went in the same direction. That was the point [Zimmerman's lawyer Don] West was trying to make," says CNN contributor Jeffrey Toobin.

"I think a lot of what she said has been at least somewhat neutralized," said Toobin.

Another key moment in Thursday's cross examination was when Jeantel said the confrontation began. Jeantel testified that she is sure Martin said, 'Why are you following me?'

Though she appeared more confident on the stand, questions remain regarding Jeantel's credibility.

"I don't find a credibility issue. She said over and over again with conviction she heard or she believed that George Zimmerman
was following, pursuing Trayvon Martin, approached him and Trayvon Martin then said, ... 'Why are you following me?' And in response George Zimmerman said, 'What are you doing here?'" said Hostin.

That testimony is crucial because it shows Zimmerman was the first aggressor, and the pursuer.

"If the jury believes this version, if they believe Rachel, in my view it almost takes self-defense off of the table," said Hostin.

The defense focused on Jeantel's testimony that Martin called Zimmerman a "creepy [expletive] cracker."

"I think they're trying to insinuate that there was a racial confrontation," said Toobin, "That Martin had some sort of problem with white people, as opposed to Zimmerman having a problem with black people."

"I don't think that is the most successful part of the cross-examination," said Toobin. "She establishes that Zimmerman was following Trayvon Martin. As for what went on in the confrontation, I think that's where her story is a little less believable."

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