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. onelove

    You all know thats Trayvon yelling for help...Zimmerman put a gun to his chest...........Come on man....Zimmerman can lie all he wants to Judgment Day still will come one way or another. Thats why he can't rest........Your lies will one day catch up with you. I don't care if its years from now.

    April 2, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • SSampson

      I think Zimmerman was wrong – that doesn't mean that the calls for help 'obvioously' came from Martin –

      It is also a reasonable theory that Zimmerman got in over his head – stupidly – and ended up on the defensive.... maybe even yelling for help bfore he pulled the trigger – Thinking OR saying this, doesn't change anything....
      The issue is who created the situation that lead to Martins death – If Martin thought he was being attacked, then he had the right to defend himself..... If in defending himself, Zimmerman yelled for help... so what???

      Frankly, I don't see the 'tape' as a piece of evidence that helps or hinders either case...

      April 3, 2012 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
    • CTStorm

      If Zimmerman had his gun out.... and had "hunted him down" and intended to kill Martin the way they are trying to spin this mess, Trayvon never would have made a sound. Not a "HELP". Not a yelp. And there never would have been a scuffle. Unless Travyon suffered injuries that nobody is talking about, I think it's obvious who was yelling for help.

      April 3, 2012 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
    • pennrandall

      Why so judgemental? The analysis said it was a 48% match, which rounded up to 50% means that it is the same odds as a flip of a coin as to whether the voice is/isn't Zimmerman's. A 50/50 chance? It is is not a significant finding that a scream has a 50/50 chance of matching someone's speaking voice. Insignificant. We still don't know whose voice this is or what caused the fight to break out. We need more information before judging someone is all I'm sayin'.

      April 3, 2012 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
    • GMo

      When someone holds a gun to your chest, the 1st reaction is to speak quietly and break down. Not to yell LOUDLY "HELP", last thing people want to do is to freak the gunman out with loud screams and prompt him to shoot.

      April 3, 2012 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Wes

      I don't know who it is, don't put words into my mouth.

      April 3, 2012 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
  2. Are You Kidding?

    Really they were not Zimmerman's cries for help.......Justice needs to be done in this case. And Trayvon isn't around to defend all the garbage that Zimmerman's people are tossing out. He wasn't the bad guy here that is clear. It is also clear that the powers that be dropped the ball.

    April 3, 2012 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
  3. TvNyC

    Listen, you guys are all wrong. George Zimmerman killed Trayvon. He will only serve 10 years because of lack of evidence. This poor kid was a victim of a killer waiting to kill. He had it all planned. He didnt care. He could have left him alone and confronted him while on the phone with the cops. He didnt even follow the orders from the 911 call. this could definitely happen to a white guy too. Or Hispanic,etc. The problem is a killer will kill no matter what. I do think this was a racially profiled killing, but that doesn’t mean only black people are racially profiled. We just need to stand up for all good, black, white, hispanic, asian. We are all equal. We all possess special traits. We need to take a deep breath and clean our thinking and love and care for eachother. We dont have to trust them but show eachother that we can trust them because we are all human. Get this guy George do 10 years and 10 years probation and have this family get some relief. Maybe we can think of Trayvon and smile to the sky and hope his soul is with God and we will meet God and Trayvon one day. George should turn himself in or the case will go to trial for murder. If he turns himself in he will do less. He made a mistake. Racist people need to think and accept the fact that we are all sons and daughters of God. We just happen to live in different geographics. God bless us all. We will all live eternal life after death as long as you accept God in your heart.
    White male

    April 3, 2012 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
  4. iwannatalk2

    I just have 1 question. IS FLORIDA THE STATE PEOPLE KILL KIDS AND GET AWAY WITH IT? What is going on? First Casey, now this dude...really?! I get so sick of people talking about the race part. Just think about your own kids for just 1 minute....There are so many predators out there. What do we tell our kids? What do you say to them? –Be careful. If somebody starts following you in a car – RUN! If you think someone is following you-RUN! It doesnt matter if you are black, white, latino, asian, or mixed up melting pot. If you saw somebody slowly following your 16 yr old daughter in a truck what do you tell her to do? If someone was walking behind your 14yr old son and he sees them around 1 corner, then he runs away, and the dude shows up around the other corner- do you think your kid would be scared? WOULD YOU BE???!!! If some stranger walks up to your kid and asks in a demanding manner Who are you?! is your child required to answer that stranger? Do you tell your kids to talk to strangers who walk up to them? If your 17 year old kid gets asked by somebody in a truck while walking in YOUR OWN NEIGHBORHOOD – Hey! Where do you live?? are you saying you want your 17 yr old to answer them like he's their daddy? Not a cop, not a security person- just some dude who walks up to them... If someone pushes your kid or acts like they may assault them do you tell them to lie still for the person? I just want to ask those questions. Don't need to ask if your kid is black. I dont want to know if your kid is asian. Dont even need to ask if he's tall or short. WHAT DO YOU TELL YOUR CHILD AGE 15-19 TO DO IF THEY ARE APPROACHED BY A FREAKING STRANGER WHO IS ASKING THEM PERSONAL INFORMATION???

    I'm sick. I can't sleep well. Answer my questions and tell me that you tell your kid holding a bag of skittles to talk politely to a stranger who follows them around, not in any kind of uniform mind you, to answer the stranger's questions.
    I will call you a damn liar to your face.

    April 3, 2012 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
    • CTStorm

      You are an idiot. Trayvon didn't live there. He was visiting his father. It was a gated community, WITH....GASP....a neighborhood watch ! He was walking around ....at night....in the RAIN....in a hoodie. If somebody came up to me and asked me who I was and what I was doing, I would tell them that I was visiting my father who lived there. I dunno. Call me stupid and crazy. Maybe being CIVIL and telling the truth would have saved Trayvon Martins life. The only account that has been presented, however, states that Martin came up to Zimmerman and asked HIM if he had a problem. Then he punched him in the face! Travyon Martin wasn't killed for talking to a stranger. He was killed for ATTACKING a stranger without provocation and then bashing his head against the sidewalk.....and according to Zimmerman....for going for his gun.

      April 3, 2012 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
    • dribble

      My parents told me to run like heck. That's what I would do. When I have kids I will tell them that too. Run away. This kid is dead now cuz some crazy dude. Why he ain't in jail is weird.

      April 3, 2012 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Nanashadenough

      Exactly! I have been crying and unable to sleep over this as well. It sickens me. This is the world we live in? I want to puke.

      April 3, 2012 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
    • SV

      Awesome – coherent thoughts put well. Everyone is talking technical points and totally miss the soul of the issue.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
  5. Cindy

    I'm still waiting for my comment to be posted .... do I need to be Oprah to be heard ?

    April 3, 2012 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
  6. TvNyC

    Zimmrrman is a killer

    Im a white male....arrest the jew

    April 3, 2012 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
  7. TvNyC

    Cnn sux dick

    April 3, 2012 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
  8. Michael N Colorado

    Seven people were killed at Oikos Univ today and it barely get any press by CNN. As an African American I say enough about Trayvon Martin. Let the Feds, State and others do their investigation. People of color have always been unfairly targeted by law enforcement and others who seem to think they have some kind of authority to enforce rules so what’s new! The only people who seem to be surprised at this are those at CNN. Enough!!!

    April 3, 2012 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
    • mistamista

      As a white man in Florida, I say I want JUSTICE for EVERYONE in EVERY MURDER. So, your claims of wishing to move on to the next murderer is simply a really, really weak point of view. It's an incredibly serious matter that leaves every person in Florida a potential victim. I'm 6' 3" tall and I talk with a deep tone. If someone hears me say something that they deem as threatening, the preset law doesn't clarify if they can or cannot kill me. The law needs a deep, deep clarification and there should be a punishment EVEN in the instances where self-defense IS a just claim. I'm not talking about jail time, but certainly a gun safety course that cost the shooter money and time. Every case is up for review at every turn, but at the very least, I'd feel better knowing that there is some thought that goes into a potential murderer BEFORE he murdered me for being a wuss.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:10 am | Report abuse |
  9. SGT. E. G. ROCK

    SGT. E. G. ROCK

    * You people ( and I mean all you people writing here) ... It's a shame that it has come down to this..
    It shouldn't be about black vs. white or any other comparison... It should simply be about getting justice. Not by putting a bounty on someones head, or about politicians and actors all of a sudden thinking they all deserve a cameo role on C.S.I. ~ If I still remember correctly, we ALL live in America, where You are INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty. and I wish you all could let the experts FIRST come out with ALL the facts, not just some crappy sound-bytes and altered 911 calls that the wonderful Media has provided to "stir the pot of racism" just to create a sensationalized story for the 9 o'clock news ! IF Zimmerman Is telling the truth... then let the hand of Justice declare it's self defense BUT if he is not, then he should be punished by the same hand of Justice and sentenced. So stop all this racial tension and words, that does nothing to bring back any ones loved one, or relieve the pain of having to live with having shot a person. JUSTICE SHOULD PREVAIL. And ONLY JUSTICE !
    I will make judgement ONLY when ALL the facts are out... The true facts AND none of ""The Spin Zone" crap regurgitated to us by the media and other unreliable sources.
    Because all it takes is ONE UNKNOWN FACT to turn any case from innocent to guilty.

    April 3, 2012 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      SGT, very nicely put...none of us were there, and the same lynch mob was ready to rip anyone else too, as opposed to waiting for an actual trial and evidence. I do not know what is uglier, the death of this kid...or many of the comments that have been written since.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:59 am | Report abuse |
  10. 1&Only

    Are you kidding me!.... I don't if he lived there, visiting or whatever... How would you feel if your child was visiting a family member or friend and a stupid gun trotting fool shot him or her? I bet you all of you would want to seek justice for your child's killer no matter if it was justifiable or in cold blood. Now with that being said, that man killed that boy in cold blood FLAT OUT! I also Don't understand Zimmerman's father telling the media what happened. I mean was he their or is he believing the words of a KILLER. If he was in fact their then he is just as much to blame as his son for letting it happen that way. If Zimmerman would have just followed the instructions giving to him but the 911 dispatcher, do you thing Trayvon would still be alive today? This was just another senseless MURDER in the place we all love so much the United States of America where all right are supposed to be equal. If Zimmerman can walk outside at night or drive at night, why couldn't Trayvon. They really need to find justice for this little boy. Nothing he did was worth him losing his life.

    April 3, 2012 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
  11. sam111

    IF zimmerman was wearing a badge; IF he was wearing a uniform: IF he was even wearing a police-style hat; IF he identified himself as a "security guard"; IF he even approached a 17-year-old kid in a non-combative, non-confrontative way, I can't imagine that Trayvon would have become aggressive and would have given zimmerman a good reason to unholster his gun. IF zimmerman would have listened to the police about staying in his vehicle and not following Trayvon, none of this would have happened. It appears to me that zimmerman was looking for trouble and an opportunity to use – or at least show - his gun. IF he had acted responsibly, none of us would have ever heard of this unfortunate incident. Zimmerman was clearly at fault and caused this kid's death. Zimmerman needs to be charged, tried and sentenced for his crime.

    April 3, 2012 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
  12. TvNyC

    We are all equal. Power to God.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
  13. Brian

    Why does CNN assume all its readers are as stupid as Obama?
    We don't all assume guilt based on politics or skin color....

    April 3, 2012 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
    • mistamista

      Ironically, it's because people ask questions like this. If you're not as "dumb" as Obama, you're clearly dumber...so let CNN continue doing real reporting and you keep quiet until the attendant comes around to explain the finer points to you. Thanks...

      April 3, 2012 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
    • SV

      The sad fact is you dont even realize how stupid you sound.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
  14. TvNyC

    Obama is the man. One of the five that controls this planet.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
  15. TvNyC

    Good point sam

    April 3, 2012 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
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