ONTD Political

It's not George Zimmerman crying for help on 911 recording, 2 experts say

5:41 pm - 03/31/2012

As the Trayvon Martin controversy splinters into a debate about self-defense, a central question remains: Who was heard crying for help on a 911 call in the moments before the teen was shot?

A leading expert in the field of forensic voice identification sought to answer that question by analyzing the recordings for the Orlando Sentinel.

His result: It was not George Zimmerman who called for help.

Tom Owen, forensic consultant for Owen Forensic Services LLC and chair emeritus for the American Board of Recorded Evidence, used voice identification software to rule out Zimmerman. Another expert contacted by the Sentinel, utilizing different techniques, came to the same conclusion.

Zimmerman claims self-defense in the shooting and told police he was the one screaming for help. But these experts say the evidence tells a different story.

'Scientific certainty'

On a rainy night in late February, a woman called 911 to report someone crying out for help in her gated Sanford community, Retreat at Twin Lakes.

Though several of her neighbors eventually called authorities, she phoned early enough for dispatchers to hear the panicked cries and the gunshot that took Trayvon Martin's life.

George Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, shot Trayvon, an unarmed 17-year-old, during a one-on-one confrontation Feb. 26.

Before the shot, one of them can be heard screaming for help.

Owen, a court-qualified expert witness and former chief engineer for the New York Public Library's Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, is an authority on biometric voice analysis — a computerized process comparing attributes of voices to determine whether they match.

After the Sentinel contacted Owen, he used software called Easy Voice Biometrics to compare Zimmerman's voice to the 911 call screams.

"I took all of the screams and put those together, and cut out everything else," Owen says.

The software compared that audio to Zimmerman's voice. It returned a 48 percent match. Owen said to reach a positive match with audio of this quality, he'd expect higher than 90 percent.

"As a result of that, you can say with reasonable scientific certainty that it's not Zimmerman," Owen says, stressing that he cannot confirm the voice as Trayvon's, because he didn't have a sample of the teen's voice to compare.

Forensic voice identification is not a new or novel concept; in fact, a recent U.S. Department of Justice committee report notes that federal interest in the technology "has a history of nearly 70 years."

In the post 9-11 world, Owen says, voice identification is "the main biometric tool" used to track international criminals, as well as terrorists.

"These people don't leave fingerprints, but they do still need to talk to one another," he says.

'The home run'

Though the term "biometric analysis" may sound futuristic, it basically just means using personal characteristics for identification. A fingerprint scanner is an example of a biometric device.

Much as the ridges of a human hand produce a fingerprint, each human voice has unique, distinguishable traits, Owen says. "They're all particular to the individual."

The technology Owen used to analyze the Zimmerman tape has a wide range of applications, including national security and international policing, he said. A recently as January, Owen used the same technology to identify accused murderer Sheila Davalloo in a 911 call made almost a decade ago.

Owen testified that it was Davalloo, accused of stabbing another woman nine times in a condo in Shippan, Conn., who reported the killing to police from a pay phone in November 2002.

Davalloo was convicted, according to news reports.

Owen says the audio from Zimmerman's call is much better quality than the 911 call in the Davalloo case. Voice identification experts judge the quality based on a signal-to-noise ratio; in other words, comparing the usable audio in a clip to the environmental noises that make a match difficult.

And the call on which the screams are heard is better quality than is necessary, Owen says.

"In our world, that's the home run," he says.

Not all experts rely on biometrics. Ed Primeau, a Michigan-based audio engineer and forensics expert, is not a believer in the technology's use in courtroom settings.

He relies instead on audio enhancement and human analysis based on forensic experience. After listening closely to the 911 tape on which the screams are heard, Primeau also has a strong opinion.

"I believe that's Trayvon Martin in the background, without a doubt," Primeau says, stressing that the tone of the voice is a giveaway. "That's a young man screaming."

Zimmerman's call to authorities minutes before the shooting provides a good standard for comparison, Primeau says, because it captures his voice both at rest and in an agitated state.

'CSI' effect

Only one person alive knows exactly what transpired in the moments immediately before Trayvon was fatally shot: Zimmerman, who has claimed he fired in self-defense.

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executivehpfan 1st-Apr-2012 12:05 am (UTC)
The thought that it could be--and quite probably is--Trayvon in the background is just unspeakably tragic. I feel like the bullshit surrounding this entire clusterfuck cannot get any worse and every single day, it does.
hamiltonia 1st-Apr-2012 12:15 am (UTC)
All I can say is, thank god for science and technology. People can be racist, biased or otherwise influenced, but science –when done properly- can only offer the truth.
psylum_atla 1st-Apr-2012 12:35 am (UTC)
Stand back I`m gonna try science Spiderman
See other spiderman pics
kaelstra 1st-Apr-2012 12:20 am (UTC)
I've heard the recording, and I'm convinced it is Trayvon screaming-the whole thing is so tragic and senseless.
yooperchild 1st-Apr-2012 02:46 am (UTC)
I read an article saying that when his mother heard it she said it was him.

I know people can be influenced by what they want to hear and such....but a mother knows their child's voice.

Made me really sad
maenads_dance 1st-Apr-2012 12:20 am (UTC)
I'd like to know a little more about the methodology behind voice identification software - to what extent it's been tested etc.

I hope I don't have to listen to the 911 tape again. Although I knew rationally that I didn't know who it was screaming for help, it sounded so much like a young man pleading for his life before being shot dead. I'd seen footage from various warzones, still photos etc of people who were being killed or who had been killed. But something about that 911 tape - the intimacy of it - made more of an impression on me than anything else. It felt very much like witnessing someone being murdered in cold blood. I can't forget it.
darsynia 1st-Apr-2012 12:51 am (UTC)
Agreed, totally. Heartwrenching is one word for how I feel about it.
ar_feiniel_ 1st-Apr-2012 12:40 am (UTC)
The FBI is getting involved. Wouldn't be surprised if they do some similar analysis.
emofordino 1st-Apr-2012 05:12 pm (UTC)
i don't know how much good an FBI investigation is going to be though. :/ from what it sounds like, the sanford police didn't take that much evidence and since it took a month for them to even get involved in the first place, i can't help thinking about all the potential evidence that they can't get back now. i really, really, REALLY hope that zimmerman is punished for what he did, but i can't deny i'm pretty skeptical about that actually happening. :(
ook 1st-Apr-2012 01:29 am (UTC)
I sure hope that someone, somewhere, has a good recording of Trayvon's voice so that an accurate voice analysis can be done for the trial.

Edited at 2012-04-01 01:30 am (UTC)
yooperchild 1st-Apr-2012 02:48 am (UTC)
His mother mentioned in one of the interviews (at least I think it was mom...it was a family member) that his voicemail is still active, but no one wants to call it as hearing his voice would be too painful.

I don't know if that would be good enough though.
scolaro 1st-Apr-2012 04:42 pm (UTC)
That's what I kept thinking from the moment it sprang up for the first time...
lovedforaday 1st-Apr-2012 01:55 am (UTC)
Goodness, we have to wait until more evidence comes out. Why has the media tried and convicted Zimmerman already? We have to look at what kind of person Trayvon Martin was too!

You know how I figured out how it was probably not Zimmerman crying for help on the 911 tape? The cries for help stopped immediately after the gunshot. who the hell holding the gun would be crying and pleading for help?
effervescent 1st-Apr-2012 05:19 am (UTC)
I've kept wondering about this too, since Zimmerman has started claiming that Trayvon was on top of him. I'm thinking - heat of the moment, panicked, why would he just stop yelling even if he shot a person? Wouldn't he keep yelling if he was terrified, run to find the closest person even if he thought the other person was dead?
communion 1st-Apr-2012 02:22 am (UTC)
astridmyrna 1st-Apr-2012 02:41 am (UTC)
Go science, go!
lunchy 1st-Apr-2012 03:01 am (UTC)
Well duh. In this society, grown men rarely scream for help. Thank you, gender roles.

Edit: That is, society has predisposed males to think yelling for help is what ~weak wimmens~ do, and they aren't a ~real man~ if they do.

Edited at 2012-04-01 03:02 am (UTC)
lovedforaday 1st-Apr-2012 04:31 am (UTC)
Do people really remember gender roles and who is supposed to scream or not when they're faced with a life or death situation?
dncingmalkavian 1st-Apr-2012 03:59 am (UTC)
Every time I hear about this poor boy now, I just want to cry. I feel so badly for his family, and for every family that has had to go through anything like this. I hope that Zimmerman fuck gets raked over the coals, because god, I just can't even anymore.
mirhanda 1st-Apr-2012 05:18 pm (UTC)
I totally agree. Every time I think about what his parents are going through, I just lose it. Not only have you lost your precious baby, an agony like no other, there are people out there saying horrible things about him. I'd have to lock myself in a room and just scream until I lost my voice, I think. Those poor people.
lizzy_someone 1st-Apr-2012 05:42 am (UTC)
I am shocked, shocked, that the man who shot an unarmed teenage boy and appeared totally uninjured afterward, was not screaming for help. NOBODY COULD HAVE PREDICTED THIS!!
little_rachael 1st-Apr-2012 06:29 am (UTC)
I hope that boy's family sees justice soon.
masakochan 1st-Apr-2012 06:29 am (UTC)
A leading expert in the field of forensic voice identification sought to answer that question by analyzing the recordings for the Orlando Sentinel.

I'd bet $5 that there are still going to be people defending Zimmerman (even with this evidence), if it weren't for the fact that it's already a sad and unsurprising reaction that doesn't have to be assumed.

And it just keeps getting sadder, more enraging, and especially more draining just from the fact that people would NOT be continuing to ARGUE OVER THE DEAD VICTIM'S INNOCENCE IF TRAYVON MARTIN HAD BEEN WHITE. /RAGE
captain_emily 1st-Apr-2012 03:52 pm (UTC)
People are still defending him. I stupidly read over a small bit of the comments from the MSNBC article and people are looking for anything they can to defend him. These are the excuses that I remember off the top of my head:

-But they didn't test Trayvon's voice! The experiment isn't complete!
-People's voices change when they're scared!
-The people who hired the scientists paid them for this result!
-The scientists have a racist agenda!
-There's not that much difference between a 17 year old's voice and a 28 (or whatever) year old!

Many, many people were complaining about the most common picture of Trayvon. "It's biased! Show him when he's older and has gold teeth!" What that has to do with the audio, I have no idea. And when someone asks why the gold teeth are so important and if that makes it more acceptable to kill him, these same whiners are noticeably silent.

Sometimes I really dislike people.
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