BREAKING:  At close of tonight’s Frye hearing, the State announced they intend to re-call Tom Owens for additional testimony.  The Court scheduled this for 4Pm on Wednesday.  

The Zimmerman Court has re-convened the Frye suspended before jury selection.  The purpose of the Frye hearing is to determine whether the State’s proposed expert witnesses in speech recognition and/or speaker identification–Mr. Tom Owens and Dr. Alan Reich–apply their expertise in a way generally accepted by the relevant scientific community such that their findings should be admissible as evidence at trial.

This issue is important to the case because the State believes that it is Trayvon Martin screaming in the background of the Witness #11 911 recording, suggesting that Martin was a victim of an act of aggression committed by Zimmerman.  If believed, such a finding could profoundly undermine Zimmerman’s claims of having killed Martin in self-defense.  The State’s experts claim to have at least tentatively identified the recorded voice as that of Martin.

The defense experts, on the other hand, have adamantly contested any claim that it is possible to identify a person from a  scream made in extremis, nor to exclude such an identification on the same basis.

Update:  Brief observations from the testimony of Dr. James L. Wayman, expert for the defense, in this afternoon’s Frye hearing.

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Tonight’s witness for the defense was Dr. James L. Wayman.  He testified for four and a half hours, starting at 4:00PM and continuing until 8:30PM.  (It is noteworthy that the air conditioners in the courthouse are shut down at 5:00PM, and it is, of course, mid-June, and in central Florida.)

I will not cover his background, nor the three hours or so he spent on highly technical and mathematic detail.  (Not being a mathematician, I didn’t understand the bulk of it, and you shouldn’t have to go through the same experience I suffered on your collective behalf.)  So we’ll just stick to the “money quotes” here.

With respect to Mr. Owens’ findings, Dr. Wayman had the following remarks:

West:  The machine rejected the voice sample because of its length. Would it be an acceptable methodology in the scientific community to make it seem like there was more speech just by repeating the same speech over again.

Wayman:  Of course not.  If you would like me to give you a concrete illustration I’d be happy to do that.

West:  Sure.

Wayman:  I use a four-digit PIN for my ATM card.  So, I’m going to give you four digits of my PIN, and it may go out on the internet right now, it might go out to everybody, I’m going to give you four digits from my PIN.  The first digit is 1, the first digit is 1, the first digit is 1, and the first digit is 1.  Does that give you enough information to use my ATM card?  Of course not!  That information is completely dependent.  I’ve already told you that the first digit is 1, telling you four times doesn’t give you any more information.  If I have this much sound I can loop it 50 times, but I still only have THIS . . . MUCH . . . SOUND.

. . .

West:  Are you aware, in the relevant scientific community, any computer speaker recognition software that could accomplish what Mr. Owens said his did?

Wayman:  None.

West:  If his methodology and its application through his software could do what he claims it did, would that be new and novel in your scientific community and to what extent would that be significant?

Wayman:  It would be breathtakingly new and novel.  As I mentioned before, there’s no Nobel Prize [in speaker recognition] but I certainly would nominate the creator of that software for our highest prize in our science.  That would be an outstandingly new and exciting achievement.  That would be fabulous.

In closing he remarked of Owens’ work:  “That was a troubling and disturbing report.”

With respect to the findings of Dr. Reich, he pretty much threw up his hands and said he couldn’t make heads-or-tails of it.  The State, in the person of Mr. Mantei, sought to exploit this as a vulnerability, advancing the proposition that because Dr. Wayman “didn’t understand” Dr. Reich’s work, he didn’t have a scientific basis on which to criticize that work.  It was quite clear, however, that Dr. Wayman’s inability to scientifically criticize Dr. Reich’s work had a lot less to do with his inability to understand that work and lot more to do with the absence of scientific content in that work to subject to a critique.  It was much as one would expect if Wayman had been challenged for not being able to scientifically criticize a witch doctor–well, of course not.

Perhaps the most remarkable outcome of this afternoon’s Frye hearing had nothing to do with Dr. Wayman, however.  Rather, the State announced that they intended to re-call Tom Owens to the stand to re-testify as an expert witness.  The Court and both parties agreed to schedule this for 4:00PM on Wednesday, June 19.

Previous Legal Insurrection Frye Hearing Coverage

Legal Insurrection previously covered the Frye hearing questioning of Mr. Owens and Dr. Reich here:

Zimmerman Prosecution’s Voice Expert admits: “This is not really good evidence”.

We also covered in detail the Frye hearing questioning of several defense expert witnesses, including here:

Zimmerman Case: Dr. Hirotaka Nakasone, FBI, and the low-quality 3-second audio file

and also here, in which defense experts Dr. Peter French and Dr. George Doddington were questioned:

Zimmerman Case: Experts Call State’s Scream Claims “Absurd” “Ridiculous” and “Imaginary Stuff”

Today’s questioning of Dr. James Wayman represents the fourth defense witness to contest the State’s claims that the methodologies of Mr. Owens and Dr. Reich are generally accepted in the relevant scientific community and therefore that their findings are suitable evidence for trial.