CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Final arguments for release of 911 call set for Monday

A Madison police detective testified Friday that release of the Brittany Zimmermann 911 call would jeopardize the search for her killer, though a public safety expert countered that release of such information typically helps solve homicides.

Madison detective John Summers said the recordings are evidence in the Zimmermann homicide case. Therefore there is "no question" they should not be released, Summers said.

Public disclosure could lead people to come forward and give false confessions using details they learn in the media, Summers said.

Such false confessions are "not unusual" and already have occurred during the investigation of the Zimmermann case.

Summers also suggested the killer might use the audio recording as a "trophy" and he reiterated concerns expressed by the Zimmermann family about how release of the recording could be traumatic to all victims of tragedy.

He said media coverage has led to "horrible publicity" that "has not been beneficial to this case." He also said release of the audio might discourage people from calling 911.

Attorneys representing the media organizations suing the county hired William Gaut, a Florida-based consultant with 24 years experience as a Birmingham, Ala., police officer who had investigated over 1,000 homicides, though none since 1995.

Gaut testified that contrary to popular belief, law enforcement experts have found sharing more information with the public can help find a killer, particularly in cases that haven't been solved within a few days.

"Any particular piece of evidence that comes out in the course of an investigation will never jeopardize a case," Gaut said. "The more information you give to the public … the higher the rate of success." [Mark Godsey]

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