(SANFORD, Fla.) — George Zimmerman, the Florida man accused of second-degree murder for the death of Trayvon Martin, was given a major legal victory less than 48 hours before opening statements begin in his highly controversial trial.
Circuit Judge Debra Nelson ruled Saturday that prosecutors cannot bring two audio experts to the stand who claim they heard Martin screaming for help in 911 audio moments before he died. According to the court order, “there is no evidence to establish that their scientific techniques have been tested and found reliable.”
The ruling is a key boost to Zimmerman’s defense that he shot and killed the unarmed teenager after a life and death struggle ensued in which the former neighborhood watch captain, not Martin, cried out for help.
As a result of the ruling, jurors will be able to hear the 911 call, but will have to decide for themselves who was screaming in the brief audio. Both witnesses are now banned from testifying in the trial that began two weeks ago with jury selection.
The judge’s ruling came after several days of testimony in an unusual Frye court hearing during which Zimmerman’s legal team called four witnesses to rebut the testimony of two state audio experts.
Alan Reich and Tom Owens both claimed that after spending hundreds of hours listening to the 911 audio they could hear two voices.
Reich said Martin could be heard yelling “I’m begging you” and “stop.” He said Zimmerman could also be heard, but that he was not pleading for help.
George Doddington, a speech scientist brought by the Zimmerman legal team, called those claims “imaginary stuff,” adding that the methodology used to detect the screams was “absurd.”
FBI analyst Hirotaka Nakasone said he was “disturbed” by the state’s expert conclusions, and the attempt by anyone to make a positive identification based on the screams.
Nakasone testified that dissecting the 40-second 911 sample and figuring out who exactly screamed couldn’t be done because only three seconds were un-obscured.
“[The sample] has to be at least 16 seconds long,” Nakasone said. “American English has 44 different sounds. To cover all those it takes 20 to 30 seconds.”
“The 911 call is probably the best evidence of what happened that night besides George Zimmerman’s testimony and Trayvon’s,” legal analyst Bill Schaefer said earlier, adding that of course Martin wouldn’t be able to testify and explain his version of events.
An all-female jury was selected for the trial, which begins Monday with opening statements. Six jurors were chosen from a potential pool of hundreds over nine days. They will be sequestered for the length of the trial, which could last between two and four weeks.
Prosecutors accuse Zimmerman of profiling Martin, a 17-year-old high school student who was staying in the Twin Lakes Retreat subdivision in Sanford while serving a suspension from a Miami high school. They allege Martin was walking through the gated community on his way back to the home of his father’s girlfriend after leaving a convenience store when he was spotted and followed by Zimmerman.
Zimmerman admits to killing Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, but says he did so in self defense. When Zimmerman reported Martin to a non-emergency dispatcher he was told not to follow the teen and that they were sending a car. What happened next remains unclear.
Zimmerman claims that he did not follow the teen and that Martin confronted him and knocked him down. He claims Martin banged his head on the sidewalk several times and that the two struggled over Zimmerman’s gun until he pulled the trigger.
Nelson ruled Friday that when opening statements begin, prosecutors will be able to tell the jury that Martin was profiled by Zimmerman, but that they should avoid characterizing the profiling as “racial.” They can also say Zimmerman was a “wannabe cop,” use the word “vigilante” and say that he confronted Martin.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Eli Watkins, CNN
Julia Horowitz, CNN
Madison Park, Keith Allen and Andreas Preuss, CNN