Week 2 of the prosecution’s case in the George Zimmerman trial began today with the first witness, FBI speech scientist Dr. Hirotaka Nakasone.  He previously testified for the defense in the Frye Hearings regarding analyzing the “helps” in the background of one of the 911 calls.  It was determined that the science is not reliable enough to be presented to a jury, much of that information was gleaned from Dr. Nakasone’s vast experience and testimony.  For audio to be suitable for voice comparison it must have no emotion, none of the parties being identified can be under the influence of anything, including mental disorders (i.e. depression, etc.), and no disguising or attempts to disguise voices.  There can be no reverberations or echoes.  The duration must be between 30 seconds and 3 minutes (at 3 minutes the effectiveness and accuracy of the analysis levels off).  The quality of the recording must be good.  The speakers cannot be too close or too far away (referred to as near field and far field).  This is due to signal to noise ratio.  The ambient noise in the background must not overlap the voices.  Essentially, the samples being compared must both be of a person having a normal, natural speech conversation.

Dr. Nakasone received the 911 call for analysis on March 23, 2012.  It was a 2-minute call, 45 seconds of which included screams.  He stated that you cannot analyze a voice superimposed by other noises, what is termed being “stepped on” by other noises.  18.80 seconds of the call had unimpeded screams.  In this case, only 2.53 seconds of that was suitable for analysis, far below the level necessary to establish a speech pattern for analysis.  He concluded that you couldn’t make a conclusion.  The signal to noise ratio was too low, the distance was too far, he had no idea what the geometric information of the surrounding area was, but he could tell it was far field communication because of a reverberation.  The audio was “not fit for the purpose of voice comparison.”  He talked again about how “extreme emotional status” can distort a person’s voice from their norm.  Pitch can be raised for many reasons.  The prosecution asked him about determining a person’s age.  He testified that you can’t determine a person’s age by their voice.  Many people try to guess ages, but they are most often wrong.  Usually a voice is established about age 20, give or take a few years.  He did state that very young children, women, and men do have, in general, different hertz levels.  The prosecution questioned him about the difference between familiar and unfamiliar voice recognition analysis.  He explained the unfamiliar voice analysis is what forensic examiners do and familiar voice recognition is what everyone does every day.  It does have its own requisites for reliability, but it can be useful in determining who is the one speaking.

On cross-examination, Dr. Nakasone elaborated on many of his answers.  He stated that forensics is any analysis done to guide an investigation, it isn’t necessarily reliable enough for the courtroom.  He also testified to listener bias and the steps taken to diminish that risk.  Listener bias is when someone wants to hear a certain person’s voice, so they essentially wish it into a reality as their conclusion.  The FBI has analysts listen to recordings separately from one another and without any knowledge of the other scientist’s findings.  The defense attempted to question Dr. Nakasone about law enforcement practices, but the prosecution objected to scope and violation of an order from the court.  The judge sustained the objection because, according to her, he was entered as a speech therapist, not as a member of law enforcement.  The defense requested to call him as their witness and then enter him as an expert in law enforcement (he did work for law enforcement before the FBI and he does make recommendations for and works with law enforcement still).  Judge Nelson said that the defense could do that, but there would be an objection from the state and she would sustain it.  Don West continued along with laying foundation for Dr. Nakasone as a law enforcement expert.

The defense questioned Dr. Nakasone on proper practice when interviewing witnesses.  The state objected again, this time they stated that the defense should call a police officer to testify about proper practices and potential interviewer bias.  Don West stated he had a Constitutional objection, which caused a sidebar.  The state’s objection was subsequently overruled.  Dr. Nakasone said that there is an increased risk of listener bias when you place all the listeners in one room.  Listener bias is already built in as a concern, that is why the FBI performs their analysis like they do.  Dr. Nakasone testified that multiple people evaluating a voice can bring more reliability to the conclusions, but having everyone in a room can cause people to gauge what other people think, which causes obvious bias.  He recommends that people are interviewed separately, it is “common sense”.  Dr. Nakasone went on to explain the phonetic aspects of the English language and phonemes.  He also explained how people recognize the speech features of those that they know.  He explained that if someone repeats the same word or phrase repeatedly over 30 seconds or more, that only counts as suitable for the number of phonemes that the word is.  For instance, in this case, someone was yelling “help” repeatedly.  Only 3 phonemes are suitable for analysis.  Dr. Nakasone stated that if you have 30 seconds of “natural speech” then it is safe to say that you have 15 seconds that can be analyzed because pauses of speech must also be removed.  Studies have shown that the error rate in speech analysis increases when you get below 10 seconds.  Dr. Nakasone told the jury that he told the agent in Tampa not to try to reenact the 911 call, it was too difficult.  The words were “uttered under extreme emotional state”.  It is believed that there is a physiological change in people when they are under circumstances such as the one in this case, which you could not recreate just by screaming.  Screams are not just higher pitch then normal speech, it is much more complicated than that.

Don West:  Under the circumstances in this case, it would be challenging to guess or estimate the age of the person screaming.  “To do so would be a fools errand?”

Dr. Nakasone:  “That is the consensus of the community.”

Dr. Nakasone explained that science cannot help explain who is screaming.  “That is my opinion.”

On redirect, the state tried to tidy things up.  They questioned Dr. Nakasone on how it is better if a person is familiar with the voice.  He stated that it only takes a few seconds on the phone to recognize your mother’s voice.  He testified that the FBI does not tell law enforcement what to do, they only advise when asked on best practices.  He did state that the FBI has quality preferences, though.  The prosecution tried to state that what Dr. Nakasone was talking about wasn’t questioning family members for identification, it was a “voice lineup”.  This is where people are asked to step forward and repeat a phrase a perpetrator said to the victim or witness.  Dr. Nakasone said that was part of it, but bias also applies to having everyone listen to a recording for identification.  It can happen in technical analysis, but it is equally important to diminish the risk and improve credibility in all settings.

Prosecutor Mantei:  You are talking about a victim listening to suspects repeat phrases said by the perp correct?

Dr. Nakasone:  That’s part of it.  If you have 4 or 5 familiar with the voice, they should all listen separately.

The prosecution even asked Dr. Nakasone, if we are talking about potential bias, that is what it is a potential, correct?  Dr. Nakasone answered affirmatively.  The prosecution asked Dr. Nakasone, if he were to listen in a room with another person to a recording of his mother’s voice, “you wouldn’t be worried about bias would you?”  I’m pretty sure the prosecution didn’t expect his answer, he answered “there is a chance.”

When people listen together, “they have a tendency to sort of follow the leader.”

He also testified that bias can be both ways, for and against a finding.  Following this witness, there was a legal discussion on admitting George Zimmerman’s interviews.  The prosecution entered the redacted copies, per agreement and legality issues.

The next witness was Doris Singleton, a narcotics officer at the time.  She performed the first interview on George Zimmerman.  She testified that she was off-duty that night and her Sergeant, Sgt. Santiago, was on-call and he notified her to aide then-Detective Chris Serino in interviewing George Zimmerman.  She did not go to the scene, she went directly to the station and George Zimmerman was already in the interview room.  Two officers (Officer Johnson and Officer Smith) were behind the two-way glass observing.  She testified the room was 8 ft by 5 ft and had a table and chairs.  She testified that she used an audio recorder because she didn’t know how to activate the video recording in the room.  Police are not required to identify people that they are recording them in a police station, but she stated she informed him anyway.  At the beginning of the interview, which was played for the jury, she can be heard telling George Zimmerman that he isn’t being charged with a crime, but he isn’t free to go because they want to find out what happened.  She read him his Miranda Rights, which he waived.  She noticed his injuries and they briefly discussed them on the recording.  She stated that “he had crusted blood underneath his nose.”  The back of his head was “actively bleeding”.  She testified that he used the tissues in the room to try to stop the bleeding.  She did not know anything about what happened and was just there to take his statement.

The interview was played to the jury, below it is paraphrased (if you would like to base conclusions on this evidence, listen to the actual recording):

“The neighborhood has had a lot of crimes.”  My wife witnessed our neighbor’s house being broken into.  She was scared, so I started a neighborhood watch program.  There have been a few times that I saw a few suspicious persons and they “always get away.”  I never saw him before.  He was “leisurely walking”, looking at all the houses.  When I drove by he turned and looked at me.  

At this point, Sgt. Santiago called to ask about surveillance cameras.  George Zimmerman provides the information about that.

The people committing the burglaries know the neighborhood.  I called at least half a dozen times.  I don’t know if this guy was committing the burglaries.  He was standing in front of the same house as before, this guy leaves his doors unlocked.  I pulled over and called the non-emergency number.  I lost visual because he went between some houses.  He returned later and circled my car.  I rolled up my windows and stayed on the phone.  I didn’t know the name of the street that cuts through the middle of the neighborhood.  He had disappeared.  I tried to find out where he went and the name of the street.  He told me I didn’t need to do that.  I was walking through where I normally walk my dog.  

He jumped out as I was going back to my car.  He said, what the f***’s your problem?  It was dark.  I got my phone out and said I don’t have a problem.  He said you’ve got one now and he punched me.  He knocked me to the ground.  I couldn’t breathe, I tried to sit up and he started to hit my head off of the sidewalk.  I yelled for help.  I could see people.  Some guy yelled that he was going to call 911 and I yelled he’s killing me.  He covered my nose and mouth.  My vision was blurry.  

I was able to get off the sidewalk.  When I moved off of the sidewalk, my firearm became exposed.  I thought he was going to grab it, so I shot him.  He said something like, you got me or all right man.  He then said, ow, ow.  I don’t remember much after that.  I got on top of him.  Some guy came over and he asked if he should call the police.  I told him he didn’t need to call the police I needed help.  

It felt like he was hitting me with bricks.

They always come around at nighttime.  (Asked to provide a description) He was “African American”, “taller than me”, “6 feet”, “slender build”.  I gave them a description over the phone.  He had his hood up, so I couldn’t see his hair.  

They then discuss his injuries and his head being swollen.  He is asked by the police officer whether or not that is the normal shape of his head, he answers it is not.  He tells the officer they used peroxide to clean his wounds.

I guess he was upset I called the police.  When I walked through I didn’t see him.  Obviously he was waiting somewhere.  I had my phone in my hand.  When I disconnected.  I put my phone away.  When he came up to me, I don’t remember if I got it out all the way.  He said, do you got a problem, homie?  I said I don’t got a  problem.  He said, you’ve got one now.  Then he hit me.  As I tried to sit up, he grabbed my head and started hitting it off of the cement.  I yelled for help like 50 times.  I thought the guy with the flashlight was a police officer.  It seemed awhile before the police showed up, but it was probably seconds.  He said, who shot him?  I told him it was me and where my gun was.  I said, I wanted to make sure he knew I wasn’t going for my firearm.  

I was going to the store.  I was not in my watch capacity.  Usually, we call non-emergency about problems.  

The officer retrieves a google map and George Zimmerman explains where he was on the map and where everything happened.

Doris Singleton:  “You did the right thing, you called police.”

I was driving and I passed him.  I called non-emergency and I stopped.  He continued on passed me.  He looked into my vehicle.  I lost sight of him.  He went behind some houses.  I drove my car up further.  He came and circled my car.  I didn’t see him approach.  I gave a description to the operator.  He then walked off into the darkness.  I lost sight of him again.  I was still in my car.  The dispatcher asked me where he went and what street I was on.  I got out of my car and I looked at the house for a street address (talking about the houses on the left of the T), but there wasn’t one.  I continued on the dog walk.  They told me they didn’t need me to do that.  I didn’t know where I was, so I gave them the clubhouse address.  I didn’t know where he went either.  I still wanted an officer to meet me at my car.  I started to walk back to my car.  He jump out of somewhere (around the T).  There are hedges everywhere along there.  I don’t know where he came from.  He punched me and I fell backwards.  I don’t know where we ended up.

George Zimmerman then pointed out the guy’s house where he saw the man who said he was going to call 911.  Then, he fills out a paper statement.  This was also published to the jury.

The dispatcher told me not to follow, so I went back to my car.  He told me to shut the f*** up when I yelled.  He slammed my head into the sidewalk.  I continued to yell, help.  My head felt like it was going to explode.  I slid off the cement.  He saw my gun.  He said, you gonna die tonight motherf***** and I unholstered my firearm in fear of my life.  He said, you got me.  I slid out from underneath him and got on top.  I moved his arms out of the way.  An onlooker came over and I told him he didn’t need to call 911, I needed help restraining him.  An officer came after that and I put my hands on my head.  

Officer Singleton testified that George Zimmerman was surprised when she told him that Trayvon Martin had died.  He put his head down and shook it.

He was “shocked”.  He seemed “affected” by Martin’s death.

She didn’t see any ill will, spite, anger, or hatred coming from Zimmerman.  “If he had it, he didn’t show it.”  She didn’t notice any major inconsistencies.  Trauma can cause inconsistencies.  Nothing that Zimmerman said to her, concerned her.  It is fair to describe that night as “pitch black”.  Throughout the written statement, which was largely identical to his first interview, George Zimmerman refers to the unknown man (we now know is Trayvon Martin) as the “suspect.”  “I don’t think it is unusual” to call him a suspect, Singleton testified.

On redirect, the State asked why Zimmerman put his gun back in his holster if he was afraid?  They also asked her if she was speculating about Zimmerman’s emotions (spite, ill will, etc.).  They also insinuated that Officer Singleton didn’t think it was strange to say suspect because police officers say that all the time.

What‘s significant is up to the jury, correct?  “It’s important what they believe, yes.”

She also couldn’t say that Zimmerman was the one screaming.

The last witness of the day was then-Lead Detective Chris Serino.  The trial went later today then all of last week.  He considered Zimmerman’s injuries “minor.”  He became aware of a missing person in that same area and showed Tracy Martin a photograph.  He identified the deceased as his son, Trayvon Martin.  The reenactment or walk-through video of George Zimmerman explaining to investigators at the scene what occurred was entered into evidence with the same jury instruction about redaction of irrelevant materials. The reenactment was done the next day after the incident (Feb. 27th).

Below is the paraphrased version (if you would like to base conclusions on this evidence, listen to the actual recording):

He was walking in the grassy area.  I felt like something was off about him.  There is a history of break-ins at that residence.  It is better to just call.  It threw me off though.  It didn’t look like he was exercising or trying to get out of the rain.  He stopped and was looking around.  I drove passed him and stopped at the clubhouse.  I got through to the non-emergency number.  He walked past me and kept looking at my car.  He was also looking at all the houses.  They asked me where he went, what direction?  I didn’t know, so I backed out and drove up the road.  

I stopped near the pickup truck.  He was walking down the dog path.  He took a right behind the houses.  As I was talking to the operator, he came back and circled my car.  He had his hands in his waistband.  Then he disappeared again.  I didn’t know the street name.  There were no addresses because these are the backs of the houses.  I got out of my car and walked down the dog path.  I stopped at the T, but my flashlight wasn’t working.  I didn’t see anyone, so I walked all the way through.  

Back there, I forgot, they asked me if I was following him and I said yes, so they said we don’t need you to do that.  I thought I could still get the address so I walked to the end of the street.  I said that I still wanted an officer to meet me at the clubhouse.   

I started back to my truck.  I passed the T and I didn’t see anyone.  I kept going.  He yelled from behind me, yo, you got a problem?  I said, no.  I reached for my cell phone.  He said you got one now.  He punched me.  I fell down or he pushed me down, I don’t remember.  He got on top of me and I started screaming for help.  I tried to sit up, but he started slamming my head down.  My body was on the ground, but my head was on the cement.  He put his hands over my nose and mouth and said, shut the f*** up.  I tried to squirm off the concrete.  When I did that somebody opened their door and I said help me.  He said he was going to call police.  I said, no help me.  

My jacket moved up and he said, you’re going to die tonight motherf*****.  I shot him.  I didn’t think I hit him because he said you got me or you got it.  I don’t remember if I pushed him off or he fell off.  I just thought he was giving up.  I moved his hands apart, I thought he had something.  I got on top of him.  Some guy came out, I still had my gun out.  The guy said, he was going to call 911 and I said I already called them and needed help.  I holstered my gun and the cop came.

The officers talk about his injuries at the end of the walk-through.  Officer Singleton points out that his swelling has gone down.

Then, the jury was also played another interview by Chris Serino.  This one was 45 minutes long.  It was largely the same story.  The jury was also shown a medical examiner’s photo that Det. Serino showed George Zimmerman during the interview.

On cross-examination, Chris Serino admitted that George Zimmerman never denied following Martin.  That did not concern him.  He thought he was keeping an eye on him for the operator to inform the police.  He testified that George Zimmerman had no information during his first two interviews, so his statements were free of contamination.  “I can safely say that, yes.”  Serino was equipped with witness statements during the first interview, which was taken at 12:05 a.m. on Feb. 27th.  He testified about how people who experience trauma get anxiety and nightmares, it is quite common.  Zimmerman’s flat affect can be attributed to anxiety.  He testified, further, that it wasn’t about his injuries, it was mental suffering and mental state.

Mark O’Mara:  Did it come across like he didn’t care?

Chris Serino:  I didn’t know him prior…It was one of my concerns.

Mark O’Mara:  Did he seem cavalier?

Chris Serino:  Not necessarily.

Chris Serino noted that George Zimmerman talked about having to go to class, which he thought was odd that he could think about that.  He did admit that Zimmerman stated he could cancel it if the police needed him.  There was nothing other than his affect that said he didn’t care, Serino testified to.

He explained that human beings are not robots and they will have inconsistencies that doesn’t mean they are lying.  There were no major inconsistencies with Zimmerman’s statements.  It is usual in interviews for someone to have inconsistencies.  He also testified that he had a fair amount of corroborative evidence of Zimmerman’s self-defense assertion and the information supported it.

At one point during this line of questioning, the State objected and the judge had to request a read back of testimony.

Even though all information corroborated George Zimmerman’s story.  Serino testified that little things still bothered him like not remembering the street signs.  The defense went over with Det. Serino some police techniques like a “challenge interview” (this seeks to get a person to change their story majorly to discover they are lying using pressure), personalizing a victim, telling them they are there to help them, and bluffing about evidence.

“In this particular case, he could have been considered a victim too,” Serino testified.

George Zimmerman did not make any admissions and did not add anything big that could be considered an omission.  Serino asked Zimmerman in the interview about profiling and Zimmerman answered affirmatively that he would have felt the same way if he was white.

Mark O’Mara:  Did you think he was being straightforward?

Chris Serino:  Yes.

Another concern of Serino’s was that Zimmerman stated he was hit 25 to 30 times, which was not forensically backed up by his injuries.

“Based upon personal experience it could have been a panic thing,” Serino testified.

Serino also stated that he questioned if George Zimmerman had previously been a mentor why he just didn’t tell Martin what he was doing.  Serino also used the bluff technique, as mentioned above, in this case, he told Zimmerman that Martin was known to record everything with his cell phone.  This was an attempt to get him to come clean, if there was something to come clean to.

George Zimmerman responded, “Thank God, I was hoping someone videotaped it.”

“Either he was telling the truth or he was a complete pathological liar,” Serino testified.  He subsequently added that there is no indication that Zimmerman is a pathological liar.

Chris Serino’s testimony continues tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. EST.

  1. Lon Spector says:

    Sex and Race. Two “hot button” issues that will never be resolved as long as human beings remain “human.” There was a very good reason why the jury was composed of six women. The prosecution knows that women are reputed to be more “compassionate.” So women will render the verdict based on empathy and passion. Unfortunately, the “cold” hard facts of the case will mean nothing. The sympathy will reside with the “helpless little boy” (To quote one woman “witness.”) and NOT with crazed racist Geroge


    • I think women can be just as capable of listening to the evidence, following, and valuing the law over emotion and public pressure. I’ve seen it happen in other cases. One great example is the Casey Anthony case. Juror no. 3 was a woman and she was the most outspoken critic of the state’s case in her defense of their verdict. She showed people, even though they refuse to listen, that if you are not clouded by emotion and you uphold the Constitution and the law that you can see the case was speculation.


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