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Zimmerman murder trial: Expert rules out identification of screams

George Zimmerman, right, with defense attorney Don West, arrives at the Seminole County courthouse in Sanford, Fla., on Monday.
(Joe Burbank / Orlando Sentinel - Pool / Getty Images)

An FBI audio expert, who played a key role helping the defense during pretrial hearings, testified Monday at the George Zimmerman murder trial that there was no way to definitively identify whose voice is heard screaming on a recorded emergency telephone call.

Hirotaka Nakasone took the stand on Monday morning as a prosecution witness to explain the screams heard on a 911 call on the night of Feb. 26, 2012, when Zimmerman and an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, had a deadly confrontation in a gated community in Sanford, Fla.

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Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder, has said he shot Martin, 17, to death in self-defense when the teenager attacked him.

GRAPHIC: Who’s who in the Trayvon Martin case

Nakasone was called to establish the effectiveness of a voice identification by someone who is familiar with the sounds being examined. Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, is expected to testify that the screams on the tape was her son’s, buttressing the prosecution contention that Zimmerman profiled, followed, then attacked the unarmed African American youth.

But the defense argues that the voice was Zimmerman’s and at least one witness last week testified that he believed he heard a cry for help from the person who was on the bottom of the tussle he saw between Zimmerman, 29, and Martin. John Good based his comments on seeing the pair fight and said he saw a light-skinned man wearing red on the bottom, being hit by someone wearing dark gray on top. Martin was wearing a gray hoodie on that night.

Nakasone’s testimony sets the stage for Fulton’s expected appearance, but he also undercut the value of any expert testimony, a position that he also argued in testimony during a key pre-trial hearing that led Judge Debra S. Nelson to bar two prosecution experts from testifying.

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As he has before, Nakasone testified that there was not enough usable sound on the tape to make a scientific comparison, nor can the age of the screamer be determined. Further, the screams can’t be compared to a normal speaking voice, he said.

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The audio is “not fit for the purpose of voice comparison,” Nakasone said.

Under cross-examination, defense lawyer Don West said: “Science doesn’t really help” in any identification.

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“Unfortunately, that is correct,” Nakasone said.

West went on to describe any such expert identification as a “fool’s errand.” Nakasone replied: “That’s the consensus.”

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But prosecutor Richard Mantei pressed Nakasone on whether a person familiar with the voice could make an identification and Nakasone agreed one could, especially if it was someone who was very familiar. The more familiar, the better the chance of an identification, he said.

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