Experts opine on judge’s order: 'A victory for the defense'

Published On: Jun 22 2013 12:15:02 PM EDT
Updated On: Jun 22 2013 12:20:40 PM EDT

Seminole Circuit Judge Debra Nelson’s Saturday morning order was a huge blow to the prosecution, experts said.

Nelson ruled jurors will not be able to hear testimony from Thomas Owen and Alan Reich who claimed the screams recorded in a Feb. 26, 2013 emergency dispatch call were not from Zimmerman.

WPLG-Local 10 legal analyst Lee Stapleton said this was a win for the defense.

"It was a real body-blow to the state," Stapleton said. "The Judge really took time to distinguish why this was nothing more than junk science." 

In the Saturday morning order the Judge said the 911 call can be played at trial but that state experts Tom Owen and Alan Reich would not be allowed to testify.

 "There is no competent evidence that the scientific techniques used by Mr. Owen and Dr. Reich are generally accepted in the scientific field," wrote Judge Debra Nelson. "There is no evidence to establish that their scientific techniques have been tested and found reliable."

Stapleton agreed with Nelson’s ruling and said it was surprising that the state chose such weak experts.

"Even though the prosecutor implored the Judge to allow the testimony into trial and let the jury figure it out the experts' findings were ludicrous based on the short duration of the available audible and the fact that you can't compare voices to a scream," Stapleton said.

The state's experts included Alan Reich who claimed to hear Martin saying "I'm begging you". He is the only witness able to identify speech in the short bursts of screaming. The Judge found "that Dr. Reich's testimony regarding the amplified tapes would confuse issues, mislead the jury and, therefore, should be excluded from trial."  In a hearing that spanned four days defense experts had described Reich's scientific technique as "ridiculous".  

In this particular case some of the challenges were the sample size being so short, just about 2-3 seconds,  and the difficultly of trying to compare a screaming voice to a normal speaking voice. In fact one defense witness said when approached by a reporter for his analysis he "punted" because he knew the sample was not good enough to determine a "human source". 

In her order Judge Debra Nelson explained how defense witness Dr. Hirotaka Nakasone, a senior communications analyst for the FBI, "opined that identification of the person(s) screaming in the 911 call could not be made because the scientific technology does not exist today."

The Judge said of all the witnesses she found Dr. Peter French's testimony "to be the most compelling".  The Judge remembered the defense witness explaining that, "if he had received these recording from law enforcement at the outset of the case, he would have rejected the assignment as it would have been fruitless to undertake the task. Dr. French testified that there is no basis to compare spoken words to screaming," because screaming changes a person's voice in unpredictable ways.

 

 Another defense witness, Dr. James Wayman, had said there was not enough detail in Reich's report to even figure out how he determined the voice was that of Martin which "baffled" him, "it's like magic to me" he said. 

 

The other excluded state expert is Tom Owen who said he looped a short "scream" sample and then compared it to Zimmerman saying "help" in his taped reenactment for investigators which led him to conclude the voice captured screaming for help on a 911 call was not that of George Zimmerman. 

 

 "Although the aural perception and spectral analysis are not new or novel," wrote the judge, "their application by the State's witnesses to the samples from the 911 call in this case is a scientific technique that is new and novel."

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