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Court hearing via Skype will be first for Carroll

Stanley Oluwasen Shyngle
Stanley Oluwasen Shyngle (HANDOUT)

After a successful test run Tuesday afternoon, a Circuit Court judge is prepared to hear, for the first time in the county, testimony presented via the video conference software Skype.

The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday morning in the Circuit Court for Carroll County in the case of Stanley O. Shyngle, 23, who has been held since October on armed robbery charges.

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The goal of Wednesday's hearing, which is believed by local officials to be unique in the state, is to question an expert witness about his field of study and whether it has been sufficiently vetted by the scientific community, according to Assistant State's Attorney R. Aron Benjamin.

Shyngle is accused of robbing the Panera Bread restaurant in Eldersburg on Aug. 26, 2014, according to court records. He was identified by the victims, employees of the restaurant, by his voice because he was a former employee himself.

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Professor Al Yanovitz is expected to testify. At a hearing in April, defense attorney Andrew Ucheomumu said his client would like to have Yanovitz, an expert on voice recognition, testify, but it would be cost-prohibitive to fly the expert from Montana for the pre-trial hearing and the trial itself.

Ucheomumu suggested having Yanovitz testify via Skype or similar technology, and Judge Fred S. Hecker asked Ucheomumu to submit a plan to the court that would maintain the integrity of the hearing.

After hearing from both sides, Hecker issued an order May 5 outlining how the hearing would be run, including everything from requirements for audio and video to ways to share documents.

"I know Judge Hecker did a lot of research into what federal courts do … and what other state courts have tried to do," Benjamin said.

A recent case from the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland held that the prosecution's use of video conference testimony by a serologist (an expert in blood serum) was permissible, according to a footnote in Hecker's order.

Ucheomumu said his client bears the cost of the hearing and has to pay the expert for his time and the cost of overnight shipping of documents via the flash drive. The costs, however, are significantly lower than flying Yanovitz to Maryland to participate in person.

On Wednesday, Benjamin and Senior Assistant State's Attorney Adam Wells are expected to call the case then call Yanovitz using a laptop computer connected to a television screen on the courtroom wall. A test call was made to Yanovitz on Tuesday afternoon.

"The main purpose is to make sure that we can see you and you can see us," Hecker said to Yanovitz on Tuesday. Yanovitz and prosecutors took turns making suggestions for the best place for people to stand so that he could see and hear them clearly.

Prosecutors recently sent an overnight parcel to Yanovitz containing a flash drive with encrypted PDF documents that they expect to use at the hearing, according to Benjamin. When they refer to a document, Yanovitz will be given the key to open the document in real time as if it were being presented in person as an exhibit.

Any documents sent on the flash drive were also submitted to the clerk for the court's file, per the judge's order.

"Five years from now, they'll look back and say this was a very primitive set-up," Hecker said.

According to Benjamin, Wednesday's hearing could have an impact for presenting evidence and controlling costs at hearings, if everything works without catastrophic glitches.

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"But there's a lot of ifs," Benjamin said.

Any future use of the technology would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, he said.

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