Two experts in the field of forensic voice identification, Tom Owen and Ed Primeau, were hired by the Orlando Sentinel to review George Zimmerman’s call to police along with the 911 calls right before the shooting.
They both decided the voice screaming for help on the 911 calls was not George Zimmerman, and each expert arrived at that conclusion by independent methods.
Tom Owen is mentioned first in the article. He’s described as a forensic consultant for Owen Forensic Services, LLC.
Let’s take a closer look at the process he used.
After the Sentinel contacted Owen, he used software called Easy Voice Biometrics to compare Zimmerman’s voice to the 911 call screams.
“I took all of the screams and put those together, and cut out everything else,” Owen says.
The software compared that audio to Zimmerman’s voice. It returned a 48 percent match. Owen said to reach a positive match with audio of this quality, he’d expect higher than 90 percent.
“As a result of that, you can say with reasonable scientific certainty that it’s not Zimmerman,” Owen says, stressing that he cannot confirm the voice as Trayvon’s, because he didn’t have a sample of the teen’s voice to compare.
That raises some concerns. Tom Owen apparently compared Zimmerman’s normal speaking voice on a dispatch call, with high-pitched, terrified screaming that was recorded in the background of later 911 calls.
In our world, “that’s the home run,” Owen says.
I was pretty stunned that he could be so sure. After all, the computer program is looking for similarities in the vocal patterns. How many can it possibly find when pattern A is completely normal, laid back speech and pattern B is hysterical screaming?
I wanted to investigate this a bit further and looked into downloading the software Tom Owen used.
But this proved to be extremely difficult, a license for the software costs nearly $5,000.
That’s a pretty hefty price to pay to test this software out…
After a few more minutes of research, I found out that the Easy Voice Biometrics web domain is actually owned by Tom Owen himself.
So what Tom Owen is actually doing here, is using his own home-grown software to attempt to determine the similarities in speech markers between two radically different types of voice patterns and claiming that it is accurate “beyond scientific certainty.”
Beyond scientific certainty is a pretty strong statement.
There doesn’t seem to be any disclosure in the Orlando Sentinel article that Tom Owen owns EasyVoiceBiometrics.com, nor any that he was using his own software package to do the analysis.
I’m not sure whether the Orlando Sentinel author realizes it, but that could easily be construed as a conflict of interest, particularly when the software is currently being sold for $5,000 per license. There’s an extremely transparent profit motive for Tom Owen to promote his product in any way that he can, especially at that price.
Since Tom Owen has staked his reputation on this, and has said point-blank that this software is so accurate that he knows “with reasonable scientific certainty” that it’s not Zimmerman on the 911 calls, the software must at least be extremely thoroughly tested, right?
I emailed Mr. Owen to double-check.
Doesn’t sound reassuring, does it?
It also says, on Easy Voice Biometric’s own web site, that the software is less than a month old.
This is especially strange, because the Orlando Sentinel article says:
As recently as January, Owen used the same technology to identify accused murderer Sheila Davalloo in a 911 call made almost a decade ago.
How could Owen have been using the same technology in that case when the web site says the software was only released three weeks ago?
It lists a launch date of March 7th, 2012 on the news section of the site:
Since Owen referred me to TracerTek.com, I checked out that site as well.
It appears Jeff Klinedinst is involved with both. He is listed as the VP of Marketing on TracerTek and he did the YouTube demo videos for Easy Voice Biometrics.
Here’s a demo video Jeff put together for Easy Voice Biometrics.
The software appears to work fine if someone alters their voice slightly, or if there is light music playing in the background.
But there certainly isn’t anything in the demos about Easy Voice Biometrics offering “reasonable scientific certainty” when someone is screaming in panic on the background of a 911 call.
So where exactly is this “scientific certainty” coming from?
The second expert, Ed Primeau, doesn’t “believe” in Biometric Analysis, but doesn’t say why.
Not all experts rely on biometrics. Ed Primeau, a Michigan-based audio engineer and forensics expert, is not a believer in the technology’s use in courtroom settings.
Ed simply listened to the recordings. Then he decided the noises were Trayvon Martin because of the “tone of the voice” while reading Mother Jones.
“I believe that’s Trayvon Martin in the background, without a doubt,” Primeau says, stressing that the tone of the voice is a giveaway. “That’s a young man screaming.”
Nevermind that there was an eyewitness to the fight who clearly states it was George Zimmerman yelling out for help. Or that Zimmerman is cited in the original police report as saying he was yelling for help. Or that the yells much more accurately portray someone who is screaming during an assault, rather than someone begging for their life at gunpoint.
Both Primeau and Owen report that they are credentialed by the American College Forensic Examiners Institute.
Sadly, it turns out there is an entire suite of these “American Forensic Board” sites, on almost any topic you can think of, which all seem to be ran by the same person, a gentleman named Dr. O’Block who claims to have nearly a dozen degrees himself.
Once again, most of these sites use the same basic template and only change cursory details, making it difficult to gauge how legitimate the boards are, if at all.
Tom Owen also lists things like this:
Instructor “New York Institute for Forensic Audio” 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998,
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005,2006, 2007
As prestigious as the “New York Institute for Forensic Audio” sounds, there is no such brick and mortar institute. It is actually a “division” of Owen Investigations, LLC. Tom Owen is basically claiming he was an instructor at his own unaccredited university.
I’m sure we’ll hear more about this in the upcoming weeks, since both of these “experts” have sparked a lot of controversy with their statements and placed their reputations on the line.