This is from a story in the Seattle Times of 1996 [my bold]. If Reich’s evidence is not allowed in a gross misdemeanor case should it be allowed in a murder trial?
Prosecutors say they still have a case against the superintendent of the Issaquah School District even though a District Court judge ruled yesterday they cannot use a voice expert’s testimony.
The expert, University of Washington Professor Alan Reich, had said he was “99 percent sure” that William Stewart left obscene and threatening messages on an answering machine belonging to his lover’s husband.
Stewart is charged with four counts of telephone harassment – a gross misdemeanor. His trial is scheduled to start Jan. 17.
“We’ll go forward,” said Dan Donohoe, King County Prosecutor spokesman. “A jury will still get to decide if it’s the defendant’s voice on the tape. And there are witnesses who will testify to the identity of the person on the tape.”
Jenny Durkan, Stewart’s attorney, said the ruling dealt a much larger blow to prosecutors.
“There are no fingerprints,” she said. “There is no DNA. There is no one saying I saw this man make those calls. And keep in mind that this was a man who was under surveillance.”
Dr. David Minehan, the victim of the harassment, hired a private investigator to find the person responsible for the calls.
While the investigator traced a number of the hangup calls to pay phones in Kent, Renton, Bellevue, Factoria and Issaquah, none was traced to phones owned by Stewart.
To identify the caller on the tapes, prosecutors relied on Reich’s comparison of the messages with a recording of Stewart trying to duplicate them. Reich testified yesterday that he listened for distinct similarities in the recordings and compared graphs created by a spectrograph from the recordings.
During the pretrial hearing, Bellevue District Court Judge Joel Rindal ruled that voice analysis doesn’t pass the Frye test, a 72-year-old federal decision that says scientists generally must agree it is a reliable proof.
Rindal said the evidence couldn’t be used because there are no uniform standards for using voice-identification technology.
If Stewart is convicted, he could face a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. He has said he would voluntarily step down from his job as superintendent if he is convicted. He has been on administrative leave since being charged.