While the prospect makes for a sensational headline and possibly a topic for holiday discussion, it does raise the question: Can a parrot’s utterings be used in court?
Apparently it was tried before. In 1993, the defense in a North Carolina murder case attempted to use the “statement” of a parrot as exculpatory evidence. But, the judge ruled against the defense.
Despite this, I believe that with the use of an expert and the right set of facts, a parrot’s utterings might be allowed.
And this case came close.
Glenna Duram, 46, is charged with first-degree murder for allegedly shooting her husband, Martin, 45, five times on May 12, 2015 in their home in Michigan. Police believe that after killing her husband, the accused then turned the gun on herself. She survived after being discovered by a neighbor the next day.
Though some described the house as being ransacked, police allege that the accused had left three suicide notes in the house – one to her ex-husband and one to each of her children. Police compiled records establishing the couple’s financial problems, gambling issues and a potentially troubled marriage. This includes the accused’s gambling totaling $75,000 in the year 2010.
Most damning, the victim was shot and killed by the pistol the couple owned and kept in the house.
The Capabilities of a Parrot as Witness
Bud, the African grey parrot that the couple owned is alleged to have recounted the conversation just prior to the murder. The victim’s mother believes that not only did Bud repeat the victim’s final words, he also restated the couple’s final argument switching between male and female voices.
The victim’s mother alleges that the parrot repeats everything it hears.
The African grey parrot is known for its ability to mimic human speech. In certain instances, they’ve demonstrated certain cognitive abilities of a small child, learning number sequences and being capable of associating human voices with faces.
Parrot Picks Out a Murderer
The most celebrated cases of a parrot “helping” solve a murder occurred in India. A nephew murdered his aunt in the presence of the family parrot. Police called out the names of all of the suspects in the case. Surprisingly, the parrot screamed and made unusual noises at any mention of the nephew’s name.
The nephew was interrogated and confessed to the crime.
We all know that this is a far cry from evidence sufficient to present at trial.
Animal Expert Establishing a Parrot as Evidence
Obviously, the parrot can’t take the stand as a witness. However, a parrot expert witness could be called to establish the capabilities and limitations of a species of parrots and detail the same for a particular parrot.
In this case, the victim’s mother alleges that the parrot repeats everything. If true, that weighs against using the parrot as it was exposed to at least one other person before the police arrived on the scene. The parrot could have been coached.
However, if police had been the first to arrive at this scene and had recorded the parrot’s utterings over their radios contemporaneous with entering the home, this would provide the strongest case for allowing the utterings as evidence.
With the proper foundation provided by an expert, the prosecution could have argued that this is akin to a recorder or phone operating during the course of a crime.
Hopefully, the prosecution has better evidence than this, but it is better than nothing.
Nobody wants to rely on a parrot’s mimicking of a conversation in a murder trial. However, I believe it is possible under the right circumstances. But for the parrot being exposed to third parties prior to being introduced to police, I believe the facts here come pretty close. At the very least, it’s more fun to discuss this than the current political climate at a holiday party.