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. rikers

    Who are these analysts and why are they giving out information before law enforcement finishes their investigation? They must have an agenda. Or do they want to write a book?

    April 2, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • chanceutkin

      Analysts are not employed by Law Enforcement, therefore they do not have to wait until the investigation to be finished, to well, analyse. The agenda is simple, this is their job, thats what they do to make money. You are overthinking this.

      April 2, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Debby

      I thought the same thing, all these things coming out before they finish with all the evidence. How lame they are just killing the case for the prosecutor.

      April 2, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. FGZ

    Owen is the founder of the American Board of Recorded Evidence. And it is the ABRE that qualified him as an "expert" in voice/audio evaluation. In other words – he's an expert because he says so. He does not have a degree or other formal training in forensics. He has never worked in forensics, until he declared himself an expert. His lab is in his basement. For meetings, the ABRE rents space from a weight loss clinic. The guy is a fraud.

    April 2, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Lewis

    CNN is desperate to have a Zimmerman trial that that they can fill their daytime airwaves with and evening talk shows that they will do anything to make Zimmerman look guilty.

    This all hypocritical lies. Two friends of mine were beat by a group of black kids in DC until the gang thought they killed my friends and left them for dead. Later on, my friends brought video tapes of the kids using their credit cards at an electronics store. Upon receiving this evidence the DC police never pursued it. This gang of kids apparently continued this until one of their victims died and the police pursued it.

    Trust me, CNN and the liberal media is trying to make this sound as heinous as possible and a failure of racist white police in order boost ratings and pump up Obama's election chances.

    Bottom line, this stuff happens all the time. Especially in democratic strongholds of DC, Baltimore, Chicago, LA, and so forth. This violence touches every race. Before you let CNN brainwash you, just remember, this violence takes place in Liberal communities, and has for a long time. This is not any race or political groups fault, and there is no political group that has done anything to stop it. And remember, many of the most violent places in America are democratic controlled communities. Having this control, have democrats stopped all violence. No!

    April 2, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lewis

      Also, remember. Democrats will come out and say, unless you vote for us and let us increase taxes to fight crime, none of this violence will stop. Illinois, California, New York, Maryland and Massachusetts have had high state taxes and crime has not stopped at all. Unless America holds Democrats, in addition to Republicans responsible for this, it will never stop. But as long as the media keeps blaming the NRA and giving democrats a righteous pass, it will NEVER stop. Why should Rahm Emmanuel or Obama fight crime in Illinois? No matter how they much fail the people of Chicago, they will always win. They have no incentive to do anything!

      April 2, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Moronmor Gadfly

      Because you said 'trust me", I do...not.

      April 2, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      Pure fantasy. I don't think it was democrats who were hanging and lynching blacks in the south and your claims that this happens in democratic communities is based on nothing more than your wishful thinking. Now, why you would wish such a conclusion is another enlightening little nugget about your character.

      April 2, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Peter: "Pure fantasy. I don't think it was democrats who were hanging and lynching blacks in the south"


      From 1870 on the entire South was run by Democrats. It was a REPUBLICAN that supported civil rights and was nearly unanimously OPPOSED by Democrats.

      So... you are probably now the LAST person to talk about fantasies...

      April 2, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. cherry

    stand their ground their ass...the fact is zimmerman followed trayvon,even trayvon already ran..that was evidence number one,it came from big mouth of zimmerman, and it was taped in 911 calls.so just this one is enough to put him in jail because he followed him..and then when he realized that what he did was a trouble to him,he quickly change that he went back to his car then suddenly he saw trayvon..see people this is a big lie...why the procecutors has to wait ..they dont have to dig more,because the fish will be catch from his mouth..it is clear that the police want to twist more because they are ashamed of what they did...the evidences are all in that 911 call,it was very clear that zimmerman was the one who provoke the fight and because trayvon fight back of course he had to defend himself ,trayvon screams because he saw zimmerman has a gun and he was afraid for his life and zimmerman pulled the trigger,the screams stopped...so this was so clear but for what reason why zimmerman still at large,the prosecutor only knows..

    April 2, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mitzi

    So Zimmerman has the gun and scream for help!. Zimmerman kill the kid for nothing .

    April 2, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • cherry

      absolutely...and they are waiting for what evidence...why dont they invite zimmerman to do a polygraphic test...bscause the man is changing his stories and they believe him..common sense,the taped of 911 calls are already strong evidence..what more they want...put him jail now..

      April 2, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |

    “I do think we need to take a step
    back, as with most of the facts in
    this case,

    April 2, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Oh'really

    Stir the pot CNN and keep the heat on high, it will boil over and you will be, at least, partially responsible.

    April 2, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      Completely nonsensical paranoia.

      April 2, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Peter

    Zimmerman is armed and looking for trouble. The kid is unarmed and looking for skittles. But somehow, the kid is the aggressor and Zimmerman the victim. Yeah, right. Why would Zimmerman scream for help when he had a gun that he ultimately used? C'mon, how stupid can people be?

    April 2, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • cherry

      uhuh...agree with you..zimmerman screams because he was afraid for his life his ass..this man should rot in jail soon..he is a killer.

      April 2, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      So, Peter, you're saying anybody that chooses to use words before they go for a gun is ... stupid?

      And here I was thinking "responsible" is a more apt description of a gun owner that calls for help first instead of just opening fire.

      April 2, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marie

      I agree with you Peter..the 911 call says it all. Zimmerman murdered a 17-YEAR OLD CHILD..it makes me sick that this man is sitting at home twiddling his thumbs. He killed a human being and needs to deal with the consequences. Who just shots someone during a physical altercation anyways??

      April 2, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • psych MD

      i agree. 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 1:29 am | Report abuse |
  9. bobcat (in a hat) ©

    If this voice analysis can prove whose voice it was heard begging for their life, then by all means it should be admissible in court as evidence. Since a voice pattern is almost like a fingerprint, it sure would help to clear up a lot of these questions.

    April 2, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. headlessthompsongunner

    Check-out Owen's company facebook page. The Martin/Zimmerman analysis is already plastered all over it. Looks like a lot of self promotion is going on, regardless of the accuracy or expertise of the tests.

    April 2, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Name*shavon

    ARREST HIM!! There is a dead body!

    April 2, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JB

    Two experts voice analyzed the 911 call. Hmmmm, two experts also analyzed Obama's purported long form birth certificate.
    Interesting how experts are only experts if you agree with them.

    April 2, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. wjeri

    Just leave it go CNN and do not try to make a racial war if it.

    April 2, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. c'mon America

    Still didn't read that the expert was paid . Many of those that believe zimmerman is completely justified seem to believe it without any doubt and almost in a cruel way ! ( if belief can be cruel ) i think they should update thier info . None of the black people i know celebrated O.J.'s aquittal , they thought he got away with murder . Why O.J. Is relevent to zimmemzn i don't know . Mayby the person who posted about that can explain !?!

    April 2, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. wjeri

    If Zimmerman was white? There would be riots every where.

    April 2, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
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