Judge bans audio expert testimony

Opening statements begin Monday

SANFORD, Fla. - Seminole County Judge Debra Nelson ordered Saturday morning that the testimony of two audio experts from the prosecution be excluded from the George Zimmerman trial.

Audio expert Alan Reich had identified the fearful screams of the Feb. 26, 2012 bloody encounter as those of Trayvon Martin, a Miami Gardens teen and Michael Krop High School student.  Thomas Owen, of Owen Forensic Services, said he was sure the screams were not from Zimmerman.

"There is no evidence to establish that their scientific techniques have been tested and found reliable," Nelson said in her order.

The sounds of the struggle in a gated community in Sanford that left the 17-year-old dead will be heard by the jury, the judged ruled.

Experts told WPLG-Local 10 reporter Christina Vazquez Saturday morning that the ruling was a victory for the defense.

Prosecutors intend to use the sound recorded in 911 calls to persuade jurors that Zimmerman was the aggressor. A woman who said she was on the phone with Trayvon the night of the shooting is likely to be a key witness.

Reich, of New Jersey, issued a report saying Trayvon said "I'm begging you" and "Stop" before Zimmerman shot him. Nelson said his report was misleading.

Attorneys argued for days after the trial began June 10 on the reliability of the expert's claim. The defense did everything they could to plant doubt.

During a hearing Thursday, Defense Attorney Don West adopted a phrase by novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton. He mocked one of the audio expert's reports, which he said was so disconnected from reality it might as well have started with "it was a long and stormy night."

On Thursday afternoon, Assistant State Attorneys Richard Mantei criticized the defense's audio expert who is a Mathematician for his lack of experience on forensic science and courtroom testimony. He had a power point presentation.

"It is easy to look sharp when you haven't done anything," Mantei said while pointing at a slideshow with a picture of red sharpened pencils.

Assistant State Attorneys John Guy said Friday that expert testimony should be presented to the jury.  With the judge's ruling, the jury will have to deal with the ambiguity of the screams. 

"It was a real body-blow to the state," said Local 10's legal analyst Lee Stapleton, "the judge really took time to distinguish why this was nothing more than junk science."

Zimmerman claims he shot the 17-year-old in self-defense. According to a medical report after the fatal shooting, the 29-year-old neighborhood crime watch volunteer suffered cuts to the back of his head and a fractured nose.

"Even though the prosecutor implored the Judge to allow the testimony into trial and let the jury figure it out the experts' findings were ludicrous based on the short duration of the available audible and the fact that you can't compare voices to a scream," said Stapleton. "It's surprising that the state chose such weak experts."

It's too late for the prosecution to appeal the judge's ruling.

"Based on my review of the testimony, Judge Nelson's order comes as no surprise," said criminal defense attorney Amir Ladan, "I agree with her analysis and her ruling. The so-called expert opinions presented by the State were not based on facts that could be adequately analyzed & scrutinized. They were merely paid opinions that were speculative at best. As far as the states case in chief, I don't anticipate that this has any material impact on how they'll proceed."

"The impact to the state is huge because what they wanted was evidence that they could talk about in their closing arguments that gave them emotional impact," said Orlando-based criminal defense attorney Diana Tennis. "I think ultimately she decided that the experts on the defense side were so much more credible that the methods by the two state witnesses just couldn't be trusted."

Opening statements are set to begin at 9 a.m. Monday.

Reporter's Notebook: What to expect from opening statements

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