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. Freddie Nerk

    Hey Eastsidedude, If i was walking in your neighborhood and you pulled me over for no good reason and shoved a gun in my face, well I would be justified taking it off you and sending you to heaven. Neighborhood Watch is not intended for crackheads like you to go armed in the street deciding who belongs there. Its a public street and unless someone is in an act of crime, you have no right to harrass them. Zimmerman gunned down a teenager and now he is hiding, some brave block watch is he. You are all cowards without a gun.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:49 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • juggler523

      Hey Freddie, if someone pulled you over and stuck a gun in your face and they were NOT a polce officer, you WOULD be justified in sending them to heaven – maybe. But if you sent them to heaven (or tried to) and all they did was what George Zimmerman did with Trayvon Martin, they would be justified in capping your butt to prevent you – just like Zimmerman did to Mr. Martin.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      I really have to agree with this – Zimm was not in uniform, carrying a weapon which is NW expressly says NOT to do, and confronted Martin – which they also expressly tell NW watchers not to do. How would I have reacted any differently.

      I keep hearing of Zimm's self-defense, what about the kids???

      April 3, 2012 at 1:52 am | Report abuse |
    • jtt

      Yea that isnt what happened by any account and if you had the gun out youd jsut pull the tirgger.

      Why dont you actully read before you comment.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:25 am | Report abuse |
    • jtt

      Andy there is no law that prevents you from following and asking someone what thery are dioing. Id like you to show me where you are geting this.

      April 3, 2012 at 3:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. Mia

    I have to comment on this. Please lock up Zimmerman. Poor if he didn't follow trayvon then this wouldn't happen .. Right? Some people let there assumptions take over. I swear rip trayvon and much love to his family. Lock Zimmerman up. I don't understand how he can get away with murder when I feel like there is enough proof. Stop all of this and let trayvon rest in peace

    April 3, 2012 at 1:51 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • juggler523

      Mia – the mere fact that Zimmerman followed Martin is not what caused his death. He shot someone, yes. But merely shooting someone is not murder. There is WAY WAY more evidence that he used justifiable deadly force in killing Martin than the opposite. You and so many others ignore the facts and focus too much on what the various internet news services are writing. Listen to the 911 calls, listen to the eyewitness comments, read the police report....

      April 3, 2012 at 1:55 am | Report abuse |
  3. NewsHobbit

    What I really want to know is how Tim Tebow feels about this case.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:56 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. jees1

    I would be hesitant to let these "experts" testify to anything. If you google the address 2750 East Sunshine, Springfield MO 65804, you will find that numerous "boards" come out of this building. In fact a few examples are The American Board of Psychotherapy...The College of Wellness and many others. It appears to be a diploma mill/publishing operation run by a guy named DR. O' Block. His website is DROBLOCK.com. This guy is a really interesting piece of work.
    I cannot imagine any court that did due dilligence allowing these guys to testify. If you don't believe me, look for yourself. Mr. Primeau got his copy of the 911 call from the Mother Jones website, to do his "analysis". Unbelievable. At the end he basically says you can't go by his conclusion.
    Mr. Owen sells the devices he uses...so there you go.
    I would take anything these two say with a very large grain of salt...probably a trainload.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:56 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • mbal

      I agree. These guys saw an opportunity to get their names and organizations in the mass media and they went for it. They're probably quacks.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:34 am | Report abuse |
  5. NewsHobbit

    Juggler is way off base here. There was no jusitification for shooting a smaller, unarmed pedestrian, period. Even if he felt threatened, it's a non-issue, given that there was no threat whatsoever. Dude wanted to play cop, saw a minority in a hoodie, and tried to be a hero. Take his gun, lock him up, and fix the ridiculous law in Florida that allows someone to shoot a harmless individual in cold blood.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:59 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • juggler523

      NewsHobbit –

      The morning after the shooting, a resident of the subdivision whose yard is located where the shooting took place told the following to a Tampa news reporter: "“The guy on the bottom, who I believe had a red sweater on, was yelling to me, ‘Help. Help.’ I told him to stop and I was calling 911”….”and then when I got upstairs and looked down, the person that was on top, beating up the other guy, was the one laying in the grass, and I believe he was dead at that point.”

      Following the shooting, the first officer on the scene, Timothy Smith of the Sanford Police Department observed the following of George Zimmerman (according to Officer Smith's report, written a few hours after the shooting): Located on the inside of Zimmerman’s waistband, I removed a black Kel Tek 9mm semi automatic handgun and holster. While I was in such close contact with Zimmerman, I could observe that his back appeared to be wet and was covered in grass, as if he had been lying on his back on the ground. Zimmerman was also bleeding from the nose and back of his head….Zimmerman was placed in the rear of my police vehicle and was given first aid by the SFD. While the SFD was attending to Zimmerman, I overheard him state ‘I was yelling for someone to help me, but no one would help me.’ At no point did I question Zimmerman about the incident that had taken place. Once Zimmerman was cleared by the SFD, he was transported to the Sanford Police Department.”

      You say there was no justification. I can understand your position if you fail to actually research. But your conclusion is the one that is way off if you have actually considered the available evidence.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:08 am | Report abuse |
  6. goinggoinggone

    If you listen to the Zimmerman 911 tape, toward the end of the tape, you'll hear Zimmerman first saying he'll meet the officer at his house. Then he changes his mind and asks the officer to call him when the officer arrives, and Zimmerman says he will THEN tell the officer where he is.

    Obviously, if he didn't know where he'd be when the officer arrived, he was planning to do a little scouting on his own.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:01 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • juggler523

      Not obvious at ALL. Just a wild assumption on your part. I could just as easily say Zimmerman planned to do some tree-climbing as the reason he might not be able to meet the officer at a particular place.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
  7. NewsHobbit

    Maybe Zimmerman is a diabetic and Martin tried to force feed him those Skittles. That's the only plausible case I can see for self-defense here.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:02 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • juggler523

      NewsHobbit – If that is the only plausible case for self-defense, I have to conclude you have a low double digit IQ, and you need to put the keyboard down, walk away and wait for the nurse to come around and give you your medication.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:11 am | Report abuse |
  8. goinggoinggone

    Correction from my last post. Zimmerman first agrees to the dispatcher's suggestion that the police will meet him at the mailboxes near where Zimmerman's truck is parked.

    Then Zimmerman changes his mind and asks the dispatcher to have the police call him when they arrive, so that he can then tell him where he's at.

    Well, if Zimmerman wasn't planning on being at his truck, where was he planning to be? It certainly doesn't sound like he was planning on returning to his truck.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:10 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • juggler523

      SO, when are you going to point out that Zimmerman was the aggressor and that Martin was an innocent victim? So far, the best you can say (a really strong assumption), is that Zimmerman may not have intended to return to his truck. Do you dismiss the eyewitness who saw Martin beating Zimmerman and Zimmerman calling for help?

      April 3, 2012 at 2:13 am | Report abuse |
  9. LB

    Psych MD I couldn't agree with you more. Not to mention if you have a guy 100 pounds bigger than you, your only hope at living is to fight, not that he had a chance to live. He probably fell and hit his head, The 911 operator told him to leave it!!!! My dog knows what that means. This was flat out Murder...
    This kid was minding his own business, talking on the phone with skittles and iced tea, yeah he was looking for trouble. Give me a break....

    April 3, 2012 at 2:26 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Stop_Playing_Judge&Jury

    Everyone is gripping about how Zimmerman was playing cop so everyone needs to stop playing judge & jury. Let the court system take care of this (it is the reason why we have it). There are many separate investigations being conducted as everyone tries to prove their point. Let it rest and wait for all the facts to come out. Caucasians stop being so defensive, African Americans stop playing the victims. This is a sad and horrible situation but we are not making it better by blaming each other. We are taking steps back as a society. All I know is this is a powderkeg situation and Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are not helping at all they are making it worse by getting everyone all amped up (on both sides). We need new leaders to come forward who are not so polarized. We have to find a common ground and talk it out like MEN or WOMEN!!! Obviously violence only gets us to where we are now and I hate this feeling. Not only is a Trayvon life lost but Zimmerman will never be able to show his face in public again (if proven innocent). Not only that but the friends and family of these two are the real victims here. If this case goes to court good luck selecting a jury that has not already read about this topic. I love all ethnicities, we need to stop working against each other and start working together. Lets turn this negative situation into a positive one and come to an understanding between the Black and White communities. Then Trayvon's life will not be lost in vain. Please can't we all just get along? I know that is what 99.99% of the population wants. Playing the blame game is never going to solve anything it will just drive a wedge through the heart of this country.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:34 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. jtt

    Ok first of all martin didnt appear to know Zimmerman had a gun. Zimmerman called the police Martin took some bad advice and put on a hoodie and ran – which isn't against the law but at some point he ended up near Zimmerman. No one called the police from Martin's family or acquaintances.

    Two – you can follow someone and ask they what they are up to – that isn't against the law – having a gun isn't either – attacking them for asking it IS.

    If someone attacks you and you fear for your life you can use lethal force.

    If what Zimmerman says is true there will be no conviction. You can look and act the fool and threaten anything it still wont happen.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:37 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Andy

      Are you for real? You haven't heard 90% of the discussion on this case? Heard of Stand your Ground? Zimmerman pursued Martin giving Martin the right under Stand your Ground to use force against someone he perceived to be threatening him. Idiot!!

      April 3, 2012 at 2:44 am | Report abuse |
  12. Andy

    @juggler523 So everyone is ignoring the "facts"? What are the "facts"? What Zimmerman said happened? What the 911 tapes tell us happened? You are obviously an eyewitness since you know the "facts" on the case. Educate us.....

    April 3, 2012 at 2:41 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Mark

    So let me get this right, a whole lot of so-called "internet experts" contest the findings of an expert that is often called to court? because they do not like where it is leading??? I am no such expert, I always wanted this to just be investigated properly, let the facts unfold. Shouldn't we just wait to see where the case goes? None of us were there.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:08 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. jtt

    You cant make up laws. SYG applies to you if you are being physically attacked and in fear for your life. Not if you are being followed by the neighborhood watch – lol.

    Also the voice analysis the Orlando Sentential did was with a program released just last month ! – one of the experts had a vested interest in it and statements made by the other expert conflicted his testimony on sampling necessary. It would never fly in court.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:10 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Rooster33

    If Zimmerman was out to murder someone, as many of you claim, why did he call the police first?

    April 3, 2012 at 4:43 am | Report abuse | Reply
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