A Florida jury won’t hear expert suggestions that Trayvon Martin gave a desperate shriek for help in the background of a 911 call before being killed by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, a judge ruled Saturday.
The ruling by Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson is a clear win for Mr. Zimmerman, whose guilt or non-guilt will be decided by a six-woman jury, with opening arguments scheduled for Monday. Zimmerman is the lone survivor of a Feb. 26, 2012 conflict inside a gated Florida neighborhood that pitted him against an unarmed 17-year-old returning to where he was staying with a bag of Skittles in his pocket.
The lack of an immediate arrest and the appearance of racial underpinnings to the tragedy brought Martin’s death to the nation, where President Obama commented at one point that, “If I had a son, he would’ve looked like Trayvon.” The case has since become a mirror in which America’s views on guns and race are reflected, and sometimes distorted.
The evidence, however, in the case is scant, which is one reason why both sides hyper-analyzed a rash of 911 calls to the Sanford Police Department. Using techniques dating back to World War II, two expert analysts – Alan Reich and Tom Owen – had ruled out Zimmerman as owning the voice that screams out “help” (or “stop,” as Reich interpreted it) before a gunshot rings.
“Was it George or not George, Trayvon or not Trayvon – we had very simple elimination decisions …,” Reich told the court last Friday. “The scream levels were almost entirely those of Trayvon Martin
If admissible in court, the conclusion that Martin emitted the panicked shriek would have heavily contradicted Zimmerman’s contention that he was in a defensive, not offensive, position when he fired. Self-defense protections only apply if jurors decide that a reasonable person would have acted similarly to the defendant.
"The evidence should be heard by the jury, and let them decide," Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei pleaded with Judge Nelson.
But ultimately Nelson ruled the testimony too subjective, likely taking into consideration how heavily a potentially flawed analysis could weight a verdict.
Defense experts argued that the methods used by Messrs. Reich and Owen deviated from standard procedures. One of those experts, FBI analyst Hirotaka Nakasone, said using screams to peg a screamer is not possible, adding that he was “disturbed” by the state’s reports suggesting Martin was the one who cried out.
To make his point, defense attorney Donald West singled out Mr. Reich’s analysis that Zimmerman sounded like a “carnival barker” before Martin screamed “stop,” notions and words he said nobody else has concluded.
“His report should begin, ‘It was a dark and stormy night,’” West said.