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Zimmerman judge rules experts can't testify on screams in 911 tape

June 22, 2013|By Michael Muskal
  • George Zimmerman in court last week in Sanford, Fla.
George Zimmerman in court last week in Sanford, Fla. (Gary Green / Associated…)

The judge in the George Zimmerman murder trial ruled that two prosecution audio experts will not be allowed to testify in the case of the neighborhood watch volunteer accused of second-degree murder in the shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.

The ruling by Judge Debra S. Nelson was released Saturday morning after hearings stretching over four days in her courtroom in Seminole County, Fla. The judge was asked to decide about background screams recorded on a 911 police tape and whether the voice could be identified.

The defense had sought to exclude the prosecution experts, arguing that the science used to make such audio identifications was not reliable. The expert testimony, identifying the voice and screams as Martin’s, would prejudice the jury against Zimmerman, defense attorneys argued.

The prosecution insisted the science was valid and that it was up to the jury to decide whose voice was heard screaming

In her ruling, Nelson held that the 911 tape could be played in court, but that prosecutors will not be allowed to use the audio experts to identify the screams in the background as the voice of Martin.

However, the prosecution will be allowed to present any witnesses familiar with Martin’s voice to testify, the judge stated.

Zimmerman, 29, is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Martin in February, 2012, in Sanford, Fla. He said he shot Martin in self-defense.

Opening statements in the trial are scheduled for Monday.

The 911 tape is a call from a neighbor who heard the confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin and called police. The recording includes sounds in the background such as screams and possibly words. The screams abruptly stop and a gunshot is heard.

Prosecution expert Alan Reich testified that it was Martin who is heard screaming and saying the word "stop" in the background of the call.

"He's making it up," Don West, one of Zimmerman’s lawyers, argued during the hearing, insisting there's no method to reliably test the sounds, which last just seconds.

James Wayman, a defense forensic voice expert, said Reich's report was baffling, and methods used by another prosecution expert, Tom Owen, have never been used to evaluate recordings like the 911 call.
"A lot of this appears to be like magic," Wayman testified. "I was baffled."

Owen, the other prosecution experts, will not be allowed to testify, Nelson ruled.


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