April 2nd, 2012
05:27 PM ET

Analysts: Questions surround 911 call analysis in Trayvon Martin case

Two experts who analyzed a 911 call made during the confrontation that ended in Florida teenager Trayvon Martin's death said they believe the screams heard in the background are not those of shooter George Zimmerman.

Zimmerman, 28, has claimed self-defense in shooting Martin on February 26. He said the 17-year-old accosted him after he called police to report Martin as a suspicious person walking around his neighborhood.

But the analysis poses some questions, legal analysts say, including whether it would be ruled admissible in court if charges are filed and the case goes to trial.

Audio experts Tom Owen and Ed Primeau analyzed the recordings for the Orlando Sentinel, and both said they believed it was not Zimmerman screaming.

"There's a huge chance that this is not Zimmerman's voice," said Primeau, a longtime audio engineer who is listed as an expert in recorded evidence by the American College of Forensic Examiners International. "As a matter of fact, after 28 years of doing this, I would put my reputation on the line and say this is not George Zimmerman screaming."

But is the analysis definitive enough for use in court? David Faigman, a professor of law at the University of California-Hastings and an expert on the admissibility of scientific evidence, said courts and the overall scientific community have mixed opinions about the reliability of such "voiceprint" analysis.

And CNN and HLN legal analysts Beth Karas and Sunny Hostin raised questions about what the public should consider regarding the conclusions reached.

Hostin says there are several questions and variables that must be considered, including the fact that the tests did not analyze similar speech. That is, the analysis was based on screams heard from a distance in a 911 call, compared with a direct phone conversation Zimmerman had with a 911 operator.

"Ideally, you want (Zimmerman or Martin's) voice saying the same exact thing, screaming 'help,' in order to analyze it," she said.

Would these tests even be admissible in court and considered evidence?

"It really depends on the individual judge," Hostin said. "In Florida, they are going to conduct a Frye test, the legal test, which asks if the science is generally accepted in the community."

Karas questioned whether the test stood up to the voice comparison standards of the American Board of Recorded Evidence, of which Owen is chairman emeritus.

 The standards indicate that when analyzing speech, there should be a minimum of at least 10 words to be compared with each other in order to say you can have a "possible elimination" conclusion. But in this case, the cries for help don't have nearly that number of words.

Owen said the published American Board of Recorded Evidence standards only partially apply to the kind of test he conducted.

"These standards apply to the older aural-spectrographic analysis and software," Owen said. "This only partially applies to the biometric software."

Both Karas and Hostin urged caution when it came to coming to a sure conclusion on the findings made by Primeau and Owen.

"I do think we need to take a step back, as with most of the facts in this case, and look at it the way the court would," Hostin said. "And that is by asking if the circumstances of how, and if, the test was done, OK, and wait to determine whether it's reliable."

– CNN's Greg Botelho and Mike Pearson contributed to this report.

soundoff (560 Responses)
  1. tdub

    Since when is a dead body NOT enough evidence or a lack of evidence? Sanford PD should be ashamed of theirselves. Your job is to make arrests, NOT be the judge and jury. This case makes me ASHAMED to be a Floridian. Its obvious someone their is looking out for Zimmerman. Isnt his dad a former judge? Ummm.......

    April 4, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Julie

      Sandford police dept. is questionable, to say the least. And daddy dearest, without a doubt, has been helping his son stay out of trouble! What a mess...a disgusting mess

      April 5, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. tdub

    There not their, oops.

    April 4, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mman

    Zimmerman stalked and killed Trayvon, no ifs and or buts!!!! Two questions: Why were there no bandages on Zimmerman in the police arrest video after his supposed "beating" by Trayvon and how did Trayvon's dead body end up ca. 100 yards from Zimmerman's vehicle if Trayvon showed up unexpectedly at Zimmerman's vehicle and attacked Zimmerman, ultimately causing Zimmerman to shoot Trayvon in "Self-defense"? Are we to believe that Zimmerman dragged Trayvon's dead body 100 yards to where the police found both of them? I THINK NOT!!! This is a case of racial profiling pure and simple and another example of the US at it's racist worst!!! I'm white and this case SICKENS ME!!!! ARREST ZIMMERMAN NOW!!!!

    April 5, 2012 at 6:31 am | Report abuse |
    • TJeff1776

      Whats an arrest, then five minutes later- a bond out. IF the prosecution has insufficient evidence, THEN no arrest is going to be made. IF the reverse is true, then an arrest. NOT BEFORE- no matter what people like you want. You are old enough for your wants not to hurt you. With local, State, and Federal investigators sifting through EVERY piece of evidence- its highly likely that the truth will probably come. BUT no matter what, unless Zimmerman is arrested, beat like a horse, and ultimately subjected to a public hanging- THEN a certain percentage of the conspiracy theorist will forever run wild.

      April 7, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mic

    Some of these analysts have watched to many soap operas. Life isn't this complex. Zimmerman saw a young black man in his neighborhood at night. He wanted something to happen not because of racial profiling but because he was a nerd looking to become a hero. He probably stopped Trayvon and showed him the pistol and then got his ass kicked. Trayvon was a good sized young man and would have been looking to prove his own manhood. They struggle to get control of the pistol and boom Trayvon gets killed. In the 911 call Zimmerman had mentioned drugs to the call screener which is why the police originally dispatched a narcotics unit. Trust me, for something like this the police don't just send one team or unit. They don't make half ass mistakes. Everyone needs to step back and objectively look for the facts and motives here and let the investigation unfold. If Zimmerman is guilty of more than manslaughter it will be discovered. If the entire police department is conspiratorially racist it will be discovered.

    April 5, 2012 at 7:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Julie

      A nerd? how kind of you. More like someone with a violent past and anger issues who has been saved by "daddy dearest" more than once. A grown man "cop-wanna be" going after a kid, with preconceived judgement, damaged way of thinking...AND with a loaded gun! Damn!

      April 5, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Judith

    The News Room just aired an analysis of the portion of the 911 call that may contain a racial slur uttered by Zimmerman. I was shocked to hear that this portion of the tape has an apparent blip or deletion. Was it technical or intentional? But wait, it gets better, an expert has "enhanced" the missing sounds and deemed that a racial slur was not used. Instead this "expert" ("unbiased" of course!) says the missing garbled noise is the word "punk." Yeah right! Shame on you CNN for airing this piece without more analysis of the veracity of the claim and source.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Julie

      I can't even believe CNN had this "expert" play this piece of trash. What an insult, is THIS an example of what they think of us, the public?
      This tape/recording, as played, means absolutely NOTHING

      April 5, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. CKP_3

    Ok I was reading that the father was a Judge? so i looked it up and this is what I found...

    Robert J. Zimmerman served as a full-time magistrate from 2000-2006. Please be advised that in Virginia magistrates are judicial officers, but they are not considered "judges" and do not possess trial jurisdiction. More detailed information on the role of the magistrate in Virginia is available on Virginia's Judicial System Website .”

    Now I am not saying that his Dad had anything to do with the fact that he was not arrested however if kind of looks that way, I would only expect the same pull from my Dad If he was a Magistrate (retired of course)

    April 5, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • TJeff1776

      The problem with that bogus scenario IS that Zimmerman's Dad was not even around between the time of Martin's death AND when Zimmerman was taken in handcuffs to the Police Station and shortly thereafter released by the local Asst District Attorney
      for lack of evidence for arrest.

      April 7, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. xweaponsofmassdistractionx

    I don't know why I even bother.....

    April 5, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Spence

    It doesn't really matter what the investigation determines, the people on one side won't accept anything that doesn't meet their already preconceived notions about what happened. And the same thing is true of the other side. It's too bad this happened, but I suspect that both parties were doing stupid things and the mix of two stupid people is what got one of them killed and the other vilified. Just a bad case of idiot all around.

    April 5, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

      An excellent comment!
      I'm intrigued by your chosen name, quite possible taken from your fine school.

      April 6, 2012 at 2:26 am | Report abuse |
  9. daryn cheney

    the clip sounds to me like he's saying "please aknowledge" so were does this clip come in...cnn is only playing a partial part of the clip..

    April 6, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. TJeff1776

    Simply put- the public has ONLY looked at half the evidence available in this case. The Investigators are not talking. The FBI is not talking. The local Police Dept is not talking. AND pieces of the unknown evidence always compliments the known.
    In short. no one on earth is able to point the accusing finger at anyone at all- the public least of all. For sure, there exists lots of unknown. For example, blood was extracted from both combatants. Whats the analysis ??? Any alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and drugs can be detected for five or more months AFTER consumed. Behavior patterns can be approximated based on the type and amount detected. Like playing poker, no one want to give away their hand until the time arrives.
    A grand jury will nearly always "indict a ham sandwich" SO little info is going to given there either. The all important awaited trial will arrive wherein recorders are present- THEN it all comes out. The prosecution must show their hand first to the defense for them to prepare their case.

    April 7, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. TCPWAVES

    Where is logic and reason?? Zimmerman is claiming self defense? Excuse me wasn't he told by the police dispatcher NOT to follow the kid and NOT to leave his car? Self defense or stand your ground was the kid without a gun. Zimmerman was the agressor in approaching him. And yes if it was reversed Martin would be in prison. We have come a long way but we still have a way to go.

    April 9, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. arpad

    This whole thing was a perfect storm of two angry losers running into each other at the wrong place and time and now we have what we have.

    April 10, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  13. Pawel

    unarmed teenager was beugdloning him in the face at the time he pulled the trigger, then it is both excusable and lawful, whereas beugdloning a neighborhood watch leader for looking at you actually is both inexcusable and unlawful. That the bludgeoner was 17 is morally and legally irrelevant. But let's allow them to try this in court, shall we? Still your comment begs a question: Does the race of a lynch mob matter? Or is any lynch mob inexcusable?joesix' comment is ironically a continuation of liberal subject-changing when they can't address the point. Thanks for an additional illustration of cosmoscon's point.

    April 22, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
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