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Jurors in Zimmerman Trial Hear Testimony from Voice Expert, Sanford Police

Joe Burbank
Orlando Sentinel

Jurors in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial heard testimony Monday from the first investigator to interview him after he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last February. Prosecutors played a recording of that interview, which took place just a few hours after the shooting.

During the interview, George Zimmerman gave Sanford Police investigator Doris Singleton a vivid recounting of his version of events. Zimmerman said he called police to report the teen as suspicious, and he was returning to his car after finding a street address to give when Martin jumped out and punched him to the ground.

“I slid into the grass to try and get out from under him, and so that he would stop hitting my head into the sidewalk, and I’m still yelling for help, and I could see people looking, and some guy yells out, ‘I’m calling 911,’ and I said, ‘Help me, help me, he’s killing me,’ and he puts his hand on my nose and on my mouth and says, ‘You’re gonna die tonight,’” Zimmerman said on the tape. 

On cross examination, defense attorney Mark O'Mara asked Officer Singleton if during the interview Zimmerman displayed any anger, ill will, or hatred, requirements listed in Florida's statute describing second-degree murder. Singleton said no.

Earlier Monday morning, the second week of testimony got underway with a surprise, as state attorneys called to the stand an expert witness who testified in pre-trial hearings for the defense. 

FBI voice analysis expert Hirotaka Nakasone told prosecutors science couldn't help identify who was yelling for help in the background of a 911 call made by a neighbor the night during the altercation between Zimmerman and Martin. Nakasone said people's voices change pitch under stress and that the amount of usable audio from the 911 call was too short to determine whether the voice belonged to Martin or Zimmerman. 

Nakasone agreed with defense attorney Don West's explanation of why he didn't even try to determine the age of the person who cried for help – because, West said, “to do so would be a fool's errand, that you can't come up with a reliable scientific opinion because it's screaming. Someone screaming for their life." 

"Yes,” Nakasone replied, “that's my opinion of the consensus."

Similar testimony from Nakasone in a pretrial hearing helped Seminole County Judge Debra Nelson decide not to allow two state experts to testify they thought it was Martin yelling on the tape.

On Monday, Nakasone said people who know Zimmerman and Martin may be best equipped to identify the voices in this case, as opposed to scientific methods. Members of George Zimmerman’s family have said it was Zimmerman calling for help in the background of the 911 call. But members of Martin’s family have said the voice belonged to Martin. 

Zimmerman is pleading not guilty, claiming self defense.

Prosecutors say Zimmerman profiled and murdered Trayvon Martin.

To see more, visit http://www.wmfe.org.


SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Jurors in the George Zimmerman trial on Monday listened to a series of police interviews with detectives growing more pointed in their questioning of the neighborhood watch volunteer's account of how he came to fatally shoot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Prosecutors played audio and video tapes of the interviews that Zimmerman had with Sanford Police investigators Doris Singleton and Chris Serino in the hours and days after he fatally shot the Miami teen.

In an early interview, just hours after the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting, Singleton recounted that Zimmerman noticed a cross she was wearing and said: "In Catholic religion, it's always wrong to kill someone."

Singleton said she responded, "If what you're telling me is true, I don't think that what God meant was that you couldn't save your own life."

But in an interview several days later, Singleton and Serino suggest Zimmerman was running after Martin before the confrontation. They also ask the neighborhood watch volunteer why he didn't explain to Martin why he was following him. The officers insinuate that Martin may have been "creeped out" by being followed.

"Do you think he was scared?" Singleton asked Zimmerman in one video interview.

Under cross-examination, though, Serino said Zimmerman seemed straightforward in his answers and didn't show any anger when talking about Martin. Serino said the increasingly pointed questioning was a tactic known as a "challenge interview" where detectives try to break someone's story to make sure they're telling the truth.

Zimmerman has said he fatally shot the teen in self-defense because the Miami-area black teenager was banging his head into the concrete sidewalk behind the townhomes in a gated community.

Zimmerman, 29, could get life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. The state argued during its opening statement that Zimmerman profiled and followed Martin in his truck and called a police dispatch number before he and the teen got into a fight. He has denied the confrontation had anything to do with race, as Martin's family and their supporters have claimed.

In his first interview at the police station, Zimmerman said he saw Martin walking through his neighborhood on a dark, rainy night while Zimmerman was driving to the grocery store. He told Singleton that he didn't recognize Martin and that there had been recent break-ins at his townhome complex.

"These guys always get away," Zimmerman told Singleton, a statement similar to one that prosecutors have used previously to try to show that Zimmerman was increasingly frustrated with the burglaries and his encounter with Martin was a breaking point.

Zimmerman told the police officer that he lost track of Martin and got out of his truck to look for a street name he could relay to police dispatcher. When the dispatcher suggested Zimmerman didn't need to follow Martin, Zimmerman started to head back to his vehicle. At that point, Zimmerman said Martin jumped out of some bushes, punched him and he fell to the ground.

Zimmerman said that Martin began hitting his head against the sidewalk as Zimmerman yelled for help and that Martin told him, "You're going to die tonight."

With Zimmerman's shirt and jacket pushed up during the struggle and his holstered gun now visible, he thought Martin was reaching for his firearm holstered around his waist. Zimmerman told the officer that he shot Martin and the teen said, "You got me."

In a written statement, Singleton read in court, Zimmerman refers to Martin as "the suspect." Singleton said it didn't appear that Zimmerman showed any anger when talking about the teen. Prosecutors must show that Zimmerman acted with ill will or a depraved mind in order to get a second-degree murder conviction.

Zimmerman also acted surprised when Singleton told him Martin was dead.

"He's dead?!" Singleton recalled Zimmerman saying, before he lowered his head toward the table in the interrogation room.

Earlier Monday, prosecutors called FBI audio expert Hirotaka Nakasone to focus on the issue of who was screaming for help on 911 calls during the confrontation. Jurors were played the 911 calls several times last week.

The recordings are crucial pieces of evidence because they could determine who the aggressor was in the confrontation. Martin's family contends it was the teen screaming, while Zimmerman's father has said it was his son.

Even though he was a pre-trial witness for the defense, prosecutors called Nakasone to set up later testimony from either the teen's mother or father that they believe it was their son yelling for help.

During his pre-trial testimony, Nakasone testified that there wasn't enough clear sound to determine whether Zimmerman or Martin was screaming on the best 911 sample, an assertion he repeated Monday.

The FBI expert said that it's easier for a person with a familiarity of a voice to identify it than someone who has never heard it previously. That is especially true if the recording is of a subject screaming and the person trying to identify the voice has heard the subject under similarly stressful circumstances previously, Nakasone said.