Friday, March 28, 2008

Really, THIS Time I am Telling the Truth!

by Pat Brown

A myth about interviewing leads one to believe that a crack interviewer will know just the right thing to get even a psychopath to confess. There is an old story about criminal profiler John Douglas who cleverly plans a strategy to push the buttons on the suspect in the brutal rape and murder of 12-year-old Mary Frances Stoner. Darrel Gene Devier is brought in to a carefully staged interview room by a huge team of law enforcement. Files are stacked up (most of them are fake) with his name conspicuously displayed on them. Then the investigator talks about the blood spatter he knows is on Devier's clothes (though there is actually no evidence). Now the suspect is very unnerved. But the key, Douglas says, to breaking this man down, is the big, bloodied rock he used to kill the girl. It is placed on a table in the room.

Devier can't keep his eyes off the rock.

Douglas explains the methodology and the results of this psychological strategy:

I warned the interrogators that they'd have to sink to Devier's level. They would need to project blame onto the victim by suggesting that she'd seduced him. Allowing Devier a face-saving scenario was their only chance of getting a confession because Devier knew that Georgia is a death penalty state.The instant Devier entered the interrogation room, he was transfixed by the rock. He started sweating, breathing hard and cowering. As planned, interrogators projected blame onto the victim. Devier got really quiet. An innocent man will scream and protest, but a guilty man will listen to what you have to say if you've surprised him with a chance to save face.

This may sound like a pretty brilliant ruse conducted by a skilled interrogator but Devier's confession had nothing to do with saving face. It had everything to do with saving his butt.

I will use a more recent case as an example of how this works. Keep in mind that a psychopath has no empathy or shame so he feels no remorse nor does he care what you think about him. He only does what is he thinks will get himself the best results. Clever though the interrogator may be, the manipulation has less to do with psychology than conning the suspect into believing you have more evidence than you do so he will confess.

Recently in Maryland an interrogation was videotaped. The video shows exactly why this is true. Gary Smith, a former Army Ranger, is being questioned about the shooting of his roommate, a fellow Ranger. He tells three stories.

Story One: Smith tells the police he arrived home to find his friend, Michael McQueen, dead. No gun was present at the scene.

Obviously the police label this a homicide as dead men do not get rid of guns. They focus in on Smith, something he was hoping they would not do. But now that they have focused on him, he has to come up with a good story to get them to go away. He decides he will convince them it is a suicide.

Story Two: Smith weeps and tells the police he altered the crime scene because he was afraid he would be accused of killing McQueen. He said he came home and found his roommate slumped over in the chair, the gun on the floor below his right hand. He guessed his buddy had found Smith's gun from under the counter where it was hidden. He took the gun and threw it in the lake. Smith swears on his dead buddy's grave this was the truth.

The police let him know that his story isn't adding up. The gun hadn't been in the house under the counter; they learned it had just been brought from his mother's house. Now Smith knew that it would seem like a premeditated homicide if he brought the gun the night the man was killed. He needed a more believable story.

Story Three: Smith brought the gun to the house that night and either left it on the counter or on the floor. He warned his roommate the gun was loaded but while he was in the shower, he heard the gun go off. With so little time between his arrival and the gunshot, Smith figures the police will believe the shooting could have been accidental.

The police have evidence that the blood-spatter patterns do not match Smith's story. Plus, if Smith's statement were true, the gun should have been on the floor below McQueen's right hand. But that's where the TV remote control was found, not the gun.

Smith has been inching closing and closer to the truth, not because the interrogator is breaking down his psychological barriers, but because each time he believes the police have a certain added bit of damning information, he reassesses his situation and decides what is the next best thing he can say to get the lowest penalty possible.

At this point in the interview, Smith has admitted to bringing the gun and being in the house when the gun went off and altering a crime scene by removing and disposing of the weapon that killed McQueen. He tried to be totally innocent and get no charge, but when he couldn't get around the gun issue, he was willing to admit to disposing of the gun because this is by far a lesser charge than murder.

Now the police are letting him know the blood-spatter pattern contradicts his story. And in this interview saga, the remote control becomes Douglas's bloody rock. Look, they say. Look at that television remote control over there. We think, Mr. Smith, that he had that in his hand when he died and he wasn't holding the gun.

Now for the confession. Smith believes they have him cornered. He stares at the remote and tries desperately to come up with the next best story that will keep him out of the electric chair. He needs to believe the police will accept this story and charge him accordingly. He will confess but not out of remorse or because he wants to save face. He wants to get out of a death penalty conviction. What will his story be? What story will the investigator offer for Smith to agree with so that he thinks he will get out of the most serious charge? Readers?


Anonymous said...

That is was somehow an accidental shooting.

Anonymous said...

Self defense?

Pat Brown said...

I think self-defense would not work because the victim was clearly sittin in a chair watching television and channel surfing. He died and dropped the remote.

So I, am with Leah, so far, with accidental being the best possible defense. Can you think of a scenario the police could tell the suspect that would match the evidence well enough to get him to confess he is the one who held the gun and pulled the trigger?

Anonymous said...

Sure they could say there were no fingerprints on the gun from the roommate. They could say according to the angle the bullet entered and the blood spatter it had to have come from someone standing over him. It would depend if it was a close range shot they could use stipling as to how close he was to the victem.
I thought accidental shooting for an excuse also.
I am sure there is more, but I would have to know more of the crime scene.

Pat Brown said...

Some good thoughts, txmichelle. The detective couldn't actually use the fingerprint issue because the gun has been tossed into a lake but he could point out the blood spatter and stipling issues. However, this would still point to homicide. The detective needs to create a plausible accident scenario that the suspect might think will get him out of a murder rap. What could he say that might get the suspect to admit he pulled the trigger?

Anonymous said...

The only thinkg I can think if is that he dropped the gun and it accidentally discharged, killing his roommate. Or that he wasn handleing the gun and it discharged accidentally.

Pat Brown said...

Those are two possible scenarios. The detective will have to take into account the fact the victim was sitting in the chair minding his own business, channel surfing.

Why would a man get shot channel surfing? Clearly, the most likely scenario is that his roommate was pissed at him, went a got his gun and offed him. This is premeditated.

However, the detective is trying to find another possible, if less probable story the suspect can hang his hat on.

One way is using the dropped gun story is for the detective to say the trajectory was at such a weird angle the gun must have been dropped. If the detective can explain this super scentifically (even if it is garbage), it will put the gun in the suspect's hand if he admits to that story.

Even better, if the detective can get him to admit to NOT dropping the gun, but just playing with it, then the suspect would admit to actually pulling the trigger. So, some scenario along these lines might work.

Maybe if the suspect admits to this, the detective can tell him that isn't quite possible and see if he can get him to admit the roommate was pissing him off being a remote hog and he lost his temper.

Each scenario must use some evidence or some pretense of evidence to get the suspect to give up more information about what really happened. He will only offer information he thinks the police already have. It is a cat-and-mouse game between the interrogator and the interrogated. It is not so much a psychological game as it is a poker game with very high stakes.

Anonymous said...

As much as I like John Douglas and think he is brilliant in his profession I found his writings to be somewhat arrogant. Particularly his first book. I agree with what you are saying. Knowing that a person killed someone is one thing but proving it is another and most criminals know that. The guy in this story is a good example. It doesn't even bother this guy that the detective knows he killed his roommate, as long as they can't prove it.

Pat Brown said...

I think what you are seeing in the earlier FBI profilers is the newness of the concept of profiling. There was a great fascination with the psychological aspects of serial killers and this was over interjected into analysis. Getting into the mind of the serial killer ::bring up the creepy music:: made many think that there was something almost psychic about the way one could undertand crime scene behaviors and motives. This expanded to believing one was so in tune with the psyche of the serial killer that one could reach into the depths of his soul and somehow touch that tiny bit of humanity in there and bring up some desire of the killer to confess, be cleansed, and be free of his sins. This pretty much is hogwash and what the profilers can really do well with experience and education is to analyze evidence (physical and behavior) and make good investigative choices. In interviewing, this means a good interrogator or profiler can use that knowledge to outplay the killer and get him to screw himself over (usually because he is arrogant and thinks he is smarter than the cop).

Jan C said...

The roommate was depressed and angry because Smith and the roommate's girlfriend were having an affair. He said he couldn't take it anymore, that he was going to kill himself and Smith would be blamed and his girlfriend would never be able to forgive herself for what she had done. The roommate puts the remote on the floor by his hand, reaches for the gun and shoots himself. Smith panics and throws the gun in the lake.

Anonymous said...

Did they check for gun residue on the victems hands? If so and there was lack of then he couldn't have possibly fired the gun. Also the angle is a big tell tale. If the victem committed suicide the angle of entry would be totally different to being shot by someone standing or sitting.

Oh where was the shell casing? Was it near the body or away from the body?

As far as getting him to confess to holding the gun it would work to play the " I understand you are scared and I am sure it was an accident, because the forensics shows that he didn't kill himself, help yourself out here and tell us what happened so we can help you."

I had forgotten that he threw the gun in the lake. So you are correct there would be no fingerprint evidence.

Pat Brown said...

Good thinking, Jan!

This would be a great scenario for a little earlier in the game. It would explain the problem of the remote being on the floor where the gun should be. The detective could use this scenario if he was trying to elicit a motive out of the suspect. The suspect might agree to some part of it in order to keep the suicide idea going and give up true information about the reason he shot his roommate.

Each step of the way in such an interrogation is built on the previous behavior of the suspect and the detective has to be on his toes to be able to outthink him or he will box himself into a corner and the suspect will get the upper hand. This is why great interrogators are so useful in getting a confession

Anonymous said...

Wasnt John Douglas your teacher? Mentor if you will?