State's key audio expert testifies at George Zimmerman hearing
Updated On: Jun 07 2013 11:59:53 PM EDT
The second day of a pretrial hearing ended with the judge still weighing whether certain voice experts will be allowed to testify at George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial.
On Friday, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson listened to testimony from voice experts with expertise in speech identification testify to determine if they will be in Zimmerman's trial. Jury selection starts on Monday.
Nelson did rule that Zimmerman's 6 p.m. curfew could be extended until 10 p.m. at the end of Friday's hearing, but said he is still not allowed to travel out of Seminole County except to his attorney's office. The state had objected to the motion, given prior issues with bond.
The remainder of the Frye hearing will reconvene on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. as the defense calls three more witnesses.
The state’s key audio witness, Dr. Alan Reich, testified on Friday afternoon by phone, but had difficulty hearing questions from a quiet courtroom. Reich, who said he hears Trayvon Martin saying "I'm begging you" in the background of the 911 calls, is the most damaging voice expert to defense team.
"The words at the screaming level were almost entirely those of Trayvon Martin," Reich said when asked about his analysis of the 911 call from a witness the night of the shooting.
Nelson will not determine if his opinion on the voice is correct, only if the software he used is too new or unaccepted in the scientific community.
Reich said the software is not anything new or novel and that it is "available to anyone who will pay for it."
Zimmerman attorney Don West is questioning Reich about calling his findings “tentative conclusions.” Reich said that conditions were not ideal for him to make his determination of who was screaming in the 911 calls.
West also questioned Reich about the money he made off of analyzing the call. Reich said The Washington Post paid him $2,000 before he received $7,500 from prosecutors.
If the state is forced to pay his going rate, it could be paying many thousands of dollars for Reich's services.
Zimmerman was in court on Friday for the hearing wearing a gray suit coat, plaid tie and white shirt.
The first witness the state called on Friday was New Jersey audio forensic expert Tom Owen, the expert who excluded Zimmerman as the source of the screams in the 911 calls. Owen is testifying via video chat and said he has never failed to qualify as an audio expert in his previous 300 times of testifying.
Neighbors called 911 during the fight and cries for help can be heard on the recordings, which will be important pieces of evidence. The state played the 911 audio of the screams and had Owen discuss it.
Owen said he used Zimmerman's voice from his reenactment video to try to match the screams on the 911 call. He said he raised Zimmerman's voice in the reenactment video.
"The screams don't match at all," Owen said. "That's what tells me it's not George Zimmerman.'" Owen said, adding that he also listens for mannerisms and how people speak.
In order to complete the analysis, Owen repeated the seven seconds of screams so his software could reach some probable conclusion.
"So in other words, unless you had taken the recordings and looped them the machine would have rejected that as being insufficient for analysis?" West asked.
"Yes, well not biometric analysis," Owen said.
West continued to question Owen trying to prove he was unfit to testify, asking him how long he has been in the business and questioning him on his qualifications and education.
West then honed in on the crucial legal issue.
"Have you ever done this before using this software, meaning looped the unknown loan gauge to extend the length?" West asked, to which Owen replied he hadn't.
"So this is brand new stuff isn't it?" West asked.
"Brand new stuff, yes it is," Owen said, although Owen did reach a conclusion about the screams not being Zimmerman.
Nelson told the defense the definition of the Frye hearing is to discuss if the voice expert's methodology is widely accepted as scientific or is novel. She limited the the defense's challenge to words the experts heard at this point and told them to argue whether the methodology is new and novel.
West continued questioning Owen on if he makes money from the software he used in analysis of the 911 calls. Owen said he has made $5,000 in the 2.5 years from sales of software.
Owen then read off what he thought was said on the call, scream-by-scream. Some of the screams he interpreted as saying "I need help" and "I want help."
Owen said the limited sound samples mean he can only say screams not being Zimmerman is "probable," and that Zimmerman can't be positively excluded or included.
In the state's questioning, they attempted to show Owen's conclusion is a separate issue from his methodology to reach conclusion on the call. Owen said looping the sound samples, which Owen had to do in his analysis of the 911 call, is not new or novel in the field.
Owen said he also tested the portion of Zimmerman's call that was under scrutiny for a possible racial slur and found that Zimmerman said "f****** punks."
Nelson also considered the state's motion to compel defense expert reports and writings. The defense says they have none required for a disclosure but the state says they have doubts. Nelson reviewed defense emails with experts to see if the state should be given any of them and found none were applicable.
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin during a struggle in a gated community where he lived. He is pleading not guilty, claiming self-defense.
Martin's family claim the cries came from the teen while Zimmerman's father has testified they were those of his son.
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