Russell Hebets June 24, 2013

On Saturday, Judge Debra Nelson made a pivotal ruling in the state’s case charging George Zimmerman with the murder of Trayvon Martin. The state prosecutors had endorsed 2 audio “experts” who claimed to have identified the yelling on a poor quality 911 call as the scream of Trayvon Martin. Judge Nelson ruled that neither of the state’s proposed witnesses could demonstrate good science on which to base their opinions, and barred their testimony. This ruling begs the question: If these opinions weren’t good science, why did the prosecutors put these witnesses forward?

There are two possibilities, each disturbing. First, and probably less likely, the Trayvon Martin prosecutors could be inept. There is a low bar for getting an expert qualified at trial. Generally, in order to qualify an expert as a witness, either side only needs to show that the expert testimony would be helpful to the jury and that their opinion is based on facts reasonably relied upon by experts in the field of study generally. The judge determined that the expert opinions were not based on good science generally used in this field. It is certainly possible that the prosecutors did not do their homework to verify that these “experts” were using good science.

A much more likely but no less disturbing possibility is that the prosecution knew that these witnesses were outside of the mainstream. They may have reached out to multiple experts known in the field, and slowly moved down their list until they found “experts” willing to say what they wanted them to say. This possibility significantly affects the credibility of the prosecutors. Are they truly the champions of justice or are they trying to get a conviction at any cost?

While this ruling was a clear victory for George Zimmerman’s defense team, it is by no means dispositive of the case. At this point George Zimmerman is probably sitting back hoping that the prosecution handles the rest of the case as poorly as they handled this critical piece of evidence.