Audio expert testifies on Manny Ellis' last known words in homicide trial

What did Manny Ellis say the night he died, and what did officers hear? That question was the focus of Tuesday’s court hearing in the trial of three officers charged in his death.

Manny Ellis died in Tacoma Police custody in March 2020.

Officers Matthew Collins and Christopher Burbank are charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Officer Timothy Rankine is charged with manslaughter.

In court Tuesday, audio expert David Hallimore answered questions about his breakdown of the audio recordings of the last known moments of Ellis’ life.

The focus for both the defense and the prosecution were the sounds of Ellis’ saying "I can’t breathe" on the recordings.

Through Hallimore's investigation, he said that he enhanced the recordings and replayed them several times to create a written transcript of the night Ellis died. However, he says you can hear a lot of what is said without the enhancements.

Without the jurors present, the judge talked about how much of the transcript can be used. 

"If someone said ‘Please, sir,’ it’s a whole lot different than ‘Breathe, sir.’ I don’t know, for sure, which one it is, and neither did Mr. Hallimore upon, at least, first hearing it," said Judge Bryan Chushcoff. "It seems to me it’s ambiguous to the point where we can’t say any differently of what the jury might make of that."

Because of the uncertainty, some words in the transcript were changed to ‘unintelligible.’ This altered transcript is what jurors received.

The defense focused their questioning of Hallimore on the likelihood that someone on scene the night of the incident would have been able to hear what was being said.

Defense: "It’s not fair to say, ’Yeah, we heard this here. This is what I found,’ and that necessarily means that the people at the scene heard the same thing. They may not hear the same thing, correct?

Hallimore: "That’s possible; correct."

Defense: "Because their focus could potentially be on something else?"

Hallimore: "That’s possible."

Other than Hallimore, an eyewitness who was in the area the night of the incident delivering pizzas, and who recorded the interaction between Ellis and the officers, took the stand. He is expected to continue his testimony on Wednesday.