The Reich Report

The latest developments with regard to the Zimmerman case suggest that the prosecution strategy is shifting. The deconstruction of the Dee Dee narrative is proceeding to the point where the prosecution will lose its star witness (or witnesses) or even see her (or them) called by the defense. Recently, the state moved to prohibit the defense from drawing conclusions should the state fail to call a witness.

Now the strategy seems to be to overwhelm the defense with a tide of “expert” witnesses beyond the economic means of the defense to rebut. The quality will probably be mediocre to minimal or negative but that,  combined with a supine judge, a chorus of outraged grief and the composed and dignified demeanor of Trayvon’s parents who could not disguise their anguish, might be enough to secure a conviction or at least a hung jury followed by a lucrative journey to the civil courts.

The first sign of this strategy is the revelation of two documents concerning the identity of the voice or voices heard screaming that night. The first of these is from Alan Reich,  formerly a professor at the University of Washington .

The report is rather strange in several ways. It begins: “May this letter serve as a partial summary of my ongoing aural and digital acoustical examination…” Why a partial summary? Is he holding something back? Or is he indicating that he might, if paid enough , come up with something more.

Then there is a review of the materials presented and a preview of what is to come. Next is a reference to “the digital audio record of George Zimmerman’s 911 call..” Would it have been so difficult for Reich to notice that this was a call to a Non Emergency Number? There is reference to “whispered speech, pitch breaks, garbled or unintelligible speech, vocal impressions, tremulous speech, and very rough voice quality. The observed behaviors were outside the customary speech modes of both the dispatcher and Mr. Zimmerman.” Reich does not explain how he determined the customary speech modes of Zimmerman and the dispatcher. He had access to Zimmerman’s calls  to his wife and from the crime scene reenactment but it seems most unlikely that this was sufficient to establish what was customary. Nor is there is any indication that he had sufficient access to samples of the dispatcher’s customary speech.

If there were whispers and garbled speech on the recording then the obvious question is how can Reich be sure that the whispers he thinks are Zimmerman’s are not Sean’s or background noise at the dispatchers office, especially if they do not cohere with the rest of Zimmerman’s utterances.

Reich claims that Zimmerman whispered three utterances: “D’ya think I’m crazy here?,” “dear God”, “but not on me”.

Nobody else has until now heard Zimmerman say these things. The essence of the experimental method in science is reproducibility. Unless Reich can describe his methods so that another observer can obtain the same results with the same methodology, his claims are scientifically meaningless. They are not wrong. They are worse than that. They have no meaning.

There is also a strange sentence . Reich writes that Zimmerman shifts from “whispered voice to customary voice to detective impression back to customary voice.” Does detective impression mean that he thinks that Zimmerman was imitating a policeman’s speech? Is there a hint of nasality that suggests Zimmerman was trying out an Inspector Clouseau impersonation?

Most likely this is  a typographical error for defective expression, another way of referring to garbled speech.

Moving on to the 911 call from a neighbor, Reich claims that this begins with Zimmerman making a seemingly religious proclamation, “these shall be” which is characterized by a low pitch. I think any reasonable listener would describe Zimmerman’s voice on the NEN call as high pitched, if not somewhat effeminate, so it is difficult to see how he identifies this utterance as coming from Zimmerman.

Again, no one but Reich has heard this utterance. And again Reich does not demonstrate how his methodology could be reproduced to obtain this result.

Reich claims that he identified the other speaker on the tape by comparison with the audio track of a  digital video file found on Trayvon Martin’s phone. One has to ask whether Reich saw the video. If not, how does he know that it was actually a recording of Trayvon and not somebody else? How does he know if it was a recent recording, even if there actually was a video?

There are many who would say that it is insensitive to suspect that Trayvon’s family would be so  dishonest as to hand over a speech sample from a few years ago to make Trayvon  sound much younger than he actually did. Well, what about those photos?

Reich claims that isolating and amplifying ten fold leads to identifying as ‘stop’ the word previously identified as ‘help’. He argues that the formant or resonant frequency is 10 % above the adult male average and therefore “highly appropriate for for a 17 year old male. Essentially Reich is saying that since on average 17 year old males have been observed to have higher pitched voices than males in their late twenties, the high pitched scream on the 911 tape must be from Trayvon who we know to have been 17 at the time of the shooting.

But age is not the only factor that affects pitch. African American males on average have a lower pitch than Caucasian or Hispanic males. Since Zimmerman was seven eighths Caucasian and Hispanic while Trayvon was African American the scream should therefore be assigned to Zimmerman.

Middle class males have higher pitch than lower class males. Zimmerman was the son of a magistrate with a white collar job and had completed high school. Martin was the son of a truck driver whose failure to pass the FCAT meant that he could not be a truck driver himself, at least not in Florida. This is another reason for concluding that it was Zimmerman screaming.

Zimmerman did not smoke. Martin had a cigarette lighter with him on the night of the shooting. Since illegal drug use cannot be mentioned, this was obviously used for lighting cigars. There is some evidence that smokers have a lower pitch than non-smokers so again the scream belonged to Zimmerman.

And of course we are always referring to averages. Nobody seriously believes that voices change in exactly the same way at exactly the same time.

Reich says the scream is consistent with the data from Martin’s phone. It must be repeated that Reich does not indicate how he has verified that the audio file is in fact Trayvon’s and, if it is, how old Trayvon was when it was recorded. Also, Reich says samples were extracted. So how many samples were extracted and how many of those did Reich actually analyze?

Reich say the scream is inconsistent with Zimmerman’s crime scene simulation video and the conversations with his wife. Does that mean that they were consistent with the NEN call? If so why not say so? And what about other publicly available speech samples such as the statement at the bond hearing or the Hannity interview?

Note also that Reich is referring to only one phoneme in, whether ‘help’ or ‘stop’, a four phoneme utterance. It is not clear whether he is comparing this vowel with the same vowel or with other vowels or with all phonemes in the samples of Zimmerman’s speech and the alleged samples of Trayvon’s speech.

So, on the basis of the analysis of one vowel in one utterance, Reich says that he can “tentatively conclude ” that the scream was by the younger of the two speakers. He then refers to a speaker who says that she heard a boy crying. If Reich is going to turn to an untrained witness for verification, then just what was the point of hiring him at all?

This is desperately thin stuff. One vowel assigned on the basis of one phonological feature and the identification of some bizarre phrases by an irreproducible and undocumented methodology.

I think O’Mara may have made a mistake. Reich on the witness stand would do wonders for the defense.

 

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