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. yneemee

    CNN tries to pretend they are SERIOUS journalists and that MSNBC and Fox New are spinning this story and polarizing the community – CNN has polarized the community since its inception during the Iran Hostage Crisis which it enflamed and prolonged and they are acting true to form in this as well – their hands are just as dirty

    April 3, 2012 at 1:10 am | Report abuse |
  2. observation

    Hmmm... Which person is more likely to scream and beg for help ? You choose.

    1. A grown man with a loaded gun, who is following someone against the advice of a 911 operator.

    2. A teenager with a drink and a bag of skittles, who is being persued by an complete stranger.

    What makes more sense in this scenario ? Who would scream help ? What do you think ?

    April 3, 2012 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Troy Noren

      i believe you are wrong. the 911 operator said not to follow and zimmerman said "okay" where do you get your story that he kept following after he said okay that he would not?

      April 3, 2012 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Nah

      You do realize you've given a totally fallacious argument, right?

      You may as well say, who do you think was more likely to scream for help:

      1) A neighborhood watchman who approached a hooded stranger.

      2) Or, the hooded stranger in a neighborhood he didn't live in and who was approached by the watchman about his being there.

      Just because you have a gun or are part of a neighborhood watch doesn't mean you cannot be attacked, scream for help, or need to use your gun in self defense.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
    • coalman

      I suggest folks commenting on the 911 recordings, or things said by any involved party, actually listen to all of the ORIGINAL 911 recordings personally before making conclusions based on the interpretation(s) of the 911 recordings the media have reported: http://sanfordfl.gov/investigation/trayvon_martin.html. All sides have an agenda and bias, as does today's media. There is little objective reporting happening in this case.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:38 am | Report abuse |
    • juggler523

      Here's one for you.

      Which person most likely DID scream for help?

      The one who an eyewitness said was on the bottom ACTUALLY screaming for help while Trayvon Martin was beating on him, or Trayvon Martin?

      The one who actually received first aid at the scene from Sanford Fire Department medics for a bloody nose and cut on the back of his head, or Trayvon Martin, whom the funeral director stated had no injuries other than the bullet wound?

      What makes more sense in this scenario ? Who would scream help ? What do you think ?

      April 3, 2012 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
  3. Troy Noren

    one of the myths that keeps getting repeated is that zimmerman kept following trayvon after the 911 operator said not to.

    zimmerman said "okay" and there is no evidence that he kept following trayvon after saying "okay".

    April 3, 2012 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Nanashadenough

      No evidence that he continued to follow Trayvon? Well he sure as hell didn't drive home.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:22 am | Report abuse |
    • politico101

      Really, then if Zimmerman so law-abidingly avoided Trayvon, how did he end up coming into contact with him? You mean Trayvon, found to be caring a drink and a bag of skittles headed on his way home, turned around to look to accost a strange man sitting in a truck with a loaded gun, and at night? Right, because when we were all little they told us, "screw saying no to strangers when they talk to you, go strike up a conversation with them!"

      April 3, 2012 at 1:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Nah

      politico: "Really, then if Zimmerman so law-abidingly avoided Trayvon, how did he end up coming into contact with him? You mean Trayvon, found to be caring a drink and a bag of skittles headed on his way home, turned around to look to accost a strange man sitting in a truck with a loaded gun, and at night?"

      Your arguments are pitiful. Not only are they filled with loaded language, you keep creating false dichotomies.

      It's entirely possible that Martin was the aggressor. It's entirely possible Zimmerman was the aggressor. It's entirely possible that Martin attacked Zimmerman because Zimmerman approached him. It's entirely possible that Zimmerman attacked Martin.

      You don't know the facts. Drawing conclusions from what little you know - and categorically proclaiming your assumptions to be truth - reflects poorly on your reasoning skills.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Returning to his car to leave when altercation occurred....certainly one possibility.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
  4. mmi16

    Zimmerman was a bully with a gun.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Chap62

      He is no better than any other killer and gang members who kill people everyday, why so much press about this story??? Yes he's black but that is nothing new so get it over with and quit making a big deal about it and stop blaming the whites.. Zimmerman is not white.. DUH

      April 3, 2012 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
  5. TSM

    STOP IT! If voice analyis can't be used in court, then why is the media reporting it? I can't stand this anymore. This is just such a low point in the low points of media misconduct. I am glad the Justice Department is looking over the case. I am glad there is a Grand Jury. And knowing history, I can understand why this is such an emotional issue for the Black Community. Mr. Zimmerman very well could be proved guity. And if the facts of the findings find him innocent...then anything that happens will be the fault of the media.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
    • NewsHobbit

      They never said the voice analysis couldn't be used in court. They said it would be up to the individual judge as to whether or not it would be permissible evidence. Learn to read please.

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

      Oh, and I forget, no guilty person has EVER been found inoocent before... like OJ. Totally innocent.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:54 am | Report abuse |
  6. Chap62

    Maybe the skittles were a snack before his next burglary. Pay the parents and be done with it, get some real news back on the screen...

    April 3, 2012 at 1:24 am | Report abuse |
  7. TvNyC

    Chap your an idiot.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Chap62

      So I fit in with all the other idiots who have expressed their opinions on a case that should never have went this far.
      If I offended you then you should be very offended by all the other comments all over the internet.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
  8. psych MD

    another point i must make is that the creams for help sopped AS SOON as the gun shot fired. IF this was was zimmerman yelling, pure adrenaline would have him continue to scream. but the fact that the shouting stopped instantly makes me believe it was trayvons touting for help. another point to be made is as a physician, i have sutured up countless scalp lacerations, and i can tell you the scalp has a tremendous blood supply and lacerations cause lots of oozing of blood. these injuries need to be sutured or at the very least bandaged, of which i see neither.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:31 am | Report abuse |
    • LB

      This is the first thing I thought... Not to mention a person with a gun probably wouldn't scream for help...

      April 3, 2012 at 3:20 am | Report abuse |
  9. Will

    Liberals are transparently pathetic. They have been twisting and cherry picking the facts of this case in a desperate attempt to promote their blαck-oppression fantasy. And of course the usual crowd of clueless, ignorant blαcks quickly jump on board so that they can feel personally oppressed and therefore absolved of their failures and parasitic lifestyle. And today we learn that the Marxist mouthpiece known as NBC "news" released an edited version of Zimmerman's 911 call, cherry picked to make it sound like Zimmerman was focused on Martin because he was blαck. Another day, another collection of LIES from the Left.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
  10. politico101

    Wait, why are they voice analyzing to see if Zimmerman's voice is the one screaming for help? It's like how they tested Trayvon for drugs and alcohol after he's the one that's killed. It's been being reported that Trayvon was the one running, crying for help. Shouldn't they be testing to confirm it's his screams? I guess they wanted to see if Zimmerman was being attacked?? (still confused by this stupidity)

    April 3, 2012 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
    • s

      They can't analyze Trayvon's voice. He is dead. Read an earlier article. They don't have a sample of Trayvon.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:54 am | Report abuse |
  11. Nunya

    Give that worm Zimmerman a lie detector test and let's see how much he squirms...or how well his story holds up for those of you that are convinced Zimmerman was entirely in the right.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:39 am | Report abuse |
  12. Chap62

    Since I am an "idiot" let me explain for the non common sense people paying attention to this story that don't understand it and are offended by what people say.
    There will be a trial.
    Zimmerman will be found not quilty. Only because of all the press coverage now that is crazy.
    The riots will hurt and possibly get more innocent people killed.
    The state will award money to the family just as they did in The OJ case and others.
    If you don't believe any of this then just sit and watch because that is how it will happen.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:42 am | Report abuse |
  13. AZLib

    I'll say it time and time again.. Yea right... a young boy on the way to a friends house decides for no reason to attack a man 100lbs bigger with a gun... This is outright murder and FL law is allowing this to even be questioned. In Florida you can now commit murder if you muble the magic words afterwords that you were standing your ground.

    There was no reason, motive for this boy to attack this man... on the other hand this guy has a history of violence and that as a neighborhood watch captain he was some type of law enforcement. This is murder...

    April 3, 2012 at 1:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. Brian

    Tom Owens worked on the Davalloo case.. Davalloo murdered her lovers girlfriend and called the police on the pay phone to tell them about the murder. Tom Owens analyzed the pay phone call and stated that it was her who made the call. The recording of pay phone call did not have the clarity of the calls made by Zimmerman, and the 911 call,but it was still admissable in court.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:44 am | Report abuse |
  15. The Secret Jesus

    These "experts " probably already had thier minds made up who was screaming before they even heard the tapes, just like the rest of you..

    April 3, 2012 at 1:47 am | Report abuse |
    • s

      How do you know that? I suppose if you don't like the results then the experts already made up their mind. If the experts agree with you? Oh, mine, then of course you will cite it as evidence why Zimmerman is not guilty. I am not saying Zimmerman is guilty or not. But he should be arrested and charged. Let the jury decides.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
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