Trial was pivotal experience for Trayvon Martin's friend - Toledo News Now, Breaking News, Weather, Sports, Toledo

Trial was pivotal experience for Trayvon Martin's friend

Posted: Updated:
In the year since the Zimmerman verdict, Rachel Jeantel has focused on self-improvement. (Source: CNN) In the year since the Zimmerman verdict, Rachel Jeantel has focused on self-improvement. (Source: CNN)

MIAMI (CNN) – Sunday marked a year since George Zimmerman learned his fate in the Trayvon Martin case.

Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges in the death of the teen.

Rachael Jeantel was on the phone with Trayvon when his fatal encounter with Zimmerman began.

A year ago, she made no secret of her feelings during a combative cross examination by the defense in Zimmerman's murder trial.

Today, she is working hard to put the past behind her and to deal with lingering regret.

When asked if she blamed herself when Zimmerman went free, Jeantel admitted, “a little bit.”

She thought the jurors didn't take her seriously.

“They judge how they talk, how they look, how they dress,” she said.

That was the beginning of an astonishing turnaround in Jeantel's life. But first she needed a lot of help.

“She was suffering from post-traumatic stress,” said Rod Vereen, a Miami atttorney who organized a support group he calls The Village, providing Jeantel with counseling to deal with the grief of losing her longtime friend and intense tutoring to overcome problems in school.

No one knew it at the time, but when 19-year-old Jeantel took the stand, she was barely able to read and write beyond the level of a third-grader.

She often pushed back when tutoring took four to six hours a day. But her tutors didn't give up, and neither did Jeantel.

In May, she donned a cap and gown and collected her high school diploma.

She credited what has taken place since what happened in the courtroom to Martin, all the good things. The fact that she's graduated, she said, "Well, I kept my word to Trayvon that I would do this.”

She's also keeping a promise to herself by having the last word for people who criticized the way she talked and acted on the witness stand, people who implied she wasn’t smart.

“Yeah, you can't say that,” she said. “You can't judge a book by a cover.”

She's had to do a lot of growing up and learning how to take responsibility for her actions. She said she believes Zimmerman should do the same.

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

She still has a lot of work of her own ahead of her: more growing, more tutoring and plans to go to college.

Copyright 2014 CNN. All rights reserved.