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Zimmerman Trial: Frye Hearing Continues with Prof. James L. Wayman.

Zimmerman Trial: Frye Hearing Continues with Prof. James L. Wayman.

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.


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Andrew, have heard some spotty reports on juror H27. What do you know?

Dr. Wayman’s testimony is DEVASTATING to the prosecution. If Judge Nelson rules that the Prosecution can present the screams and expert testimony that it can “definitely” be deemed Martin screaming, I think that will be good grounds for an appeal as to, at best, abuse of discretion, if not as a clearly erroneous ruling.

The fact that the Prosecution is asking to bring back Tom Owens shows that they haven’t learned their lesson yet, and need to get hammered some more on the current “state of the science” in voice recognition.

When I heard that Mr. Owens would be back for the prosecution, I was reminded of the old saying “when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” I had expected that the prosecution would have been adequately humiliated by Mr. Owens’ first appearance, but apparently not.

I think the prosecution may be taking a page from Mr. Owens’ playbook. If Owens doesn’t have enough audio, he adds more of the same in order to trick the software into doing what he wants it to do. If the prosecution doesn’t have a decent expert, they add more of the same in order to trick the judge into doing what they want.

It shouldn’t be hard for the defense to handle another Owens appearance. Like the self-cleaning oven, Owens is the self-refuting expert; the more he talks the more pathetic his argument becomes. I can’t imagine what he’s going to “rebut.”

This can all be solved very easily. What we need to do is to TEST Mr. Owens’ method. We get a few volunteers – perhaps some members of the prosecution team or perhaps Mr. Bernie Crump. We then replicate the circumstances under which the sounds were recorded – we go back to the scene where it happened. We then have Witness 11 call in to a recording station from her townhome. We then have the volunteers scream. Of course, we want to make this as realistic as possible, so I don’t think simply asking them to scream would be sufficient. We need to replicate the same extreme type of screaming that would have been made that night. While I don’t think it would be necessary to put any of the volunteers in fear for their lives, I think if we were to put them in enough pain, we might be able to get a similar type of scream. For our case, perhaps if we were to break a bone of the volunteer to generate the type of pain that would cause them to scream. Nothing life threatening, and nothing that would affect their day-to-day lives – maybe just the pinky finger on their non-dominant hand.
We then get a sample of those volunteers speaking in a normal manner. Perhaps we record their conversations with the doctor who is then treating the broken fingers. We take the first sample (the one second sample of them screaming while their bone is broken), we amplify it and we loop it enough times to make it long enough for Mr. Ownes’ machine to use. We take the second sample and we increase the pitch. Then we see if Mr. Owens’ software can make a match between the two known samples.

surrealdreamer | June 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm

This is not about whether the screams are identified as Trayvon Martin. The point of the prosecutions expert witnesses is that they are not Georg Zimmerman. If that leaves them only to be Trayvon then so be it. Listening closely to Day 1 of the Frye hearing it was made clear that they were proving the voice or voices screaming were not that of George Zimmerman. At the time of this all starting they did not have Trayvon’s voice to make a comparison to but they did have Georges and there testimony was to prove it was not him screaming. I believe that later a sample of Trayvon’s voice did become available but it was irrelevant because they were only attempting to rule out the screams being that of George and I do believe they accomplished that.

    You might find these posts informative (or not, depends):

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

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

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

    cazinger in reply to surrealdreamer. | June 19, 2013 at 12:41 am

    My apologies if my point was not clear enough. I was not suggesting that the state’s “experts” WERE matching the screams to Trayvon. Even THEY do not claim that they are doing that. I was suggesting that, if we were to try to test Mr. Owens’ method by using two samples that we KNEW were from the same person, yet, given the parameters of the experiment (one sample being of screams of limited time duration, screams heard from a distance, screams travelling from outside to inside, screams being transmitted over a cell phone and THEN recorded, etc and matching that up to normal speech recorded with much more controlled environment for the recording) and we found that these samples, perhaps even running the test various times with various speakers, STILL produced a “no match” result with Mr. Owens’ software and methodology, then perhaps the methodology itself is the reason for the “no match” result that was achieved when it was tried with the 911 call recording.

    After all, that is pretty much what the Defense experts (each with ACTUAL Phds) have been testifying to – that his methodology is flawed and will ALWAYS produce a “no match” result – even if it actually IS a match.