Ending Reid Method Interrogations to Prevent False Confessions

Wickland Zulawski, the firm responsible for instructing law enforcement agencies about interrogation techniques recently announced that they will no longer be using the Reid Technique.

“Approximately 29% of DNA exonerations in the US since 1989 have involved false confessions to the crime. A combination of factors could cause innocent persons to confess to a crime they did not commit. Academics have chronicled the commonalities among these cases and found the suspect is often mentally or intellectually challenged, interviewed without an attorney or parent, interrogated for over three hours, or told information about the crime by investigators.
In addition, the officers in these cases were often trained in the Reid Technique of Interview and Interrogation. Although one might argue that the officers misused their training in the technique, many courts and law enforcement agencies are moving away from this confrontational approach to non-confrontational styles.”

 

The Reid Method, which involves a confrontational interview, has been shown to result in false confessions and wrongful convictions. It was the method used in the Brendan Dassey interviews. Making a Murderer highlighted the official misconduct in the Teresa Halbach murder investigation. Steven Avery and his sixteen year old nephew, Brendan were convicted of the murders. Dassey’s confession was completely inconsistent with evidence at the crime scene and it was obvious police coerced him into admitting involvement in a crime of which he had no knowledge or participation.

Since the airing of the documentary, a federal judge has ordered the release of Dassey; however the State of Wisconsin appealed that decision and Dassey remains behind bars.  Understand that police are allowed to lie to people during interviews. They are permitted to claim that they already have evidence linking them to the crime, or a witness who has agreed to testify against them. That combined with the coercive techniques has lead to many false confessions, and teens are especially vulnerable. Dassey believed he would be able to go back to his class if he just told police what they wanted to hear. Instead he was arrested and still remains behind bars ten years later.

What tactics can the police use when questioning a suspect?

The police are prohibited from using physical or psychological coercion when conducting police interrogations. A confession or evidence that results from coercive tactics is inadmissible at trial. The police, for example, may not use torture techniques, threats, drugging, or inhumane treatment during an interrogation. The police, however, can use lying, trickery, and other types of non-coercive methods to obtain a confession from a suspect. (link)

Dassey Interview:

 

These are the nine steps of the Reid Technique:

Nine steps of interrogation

The Reid technique’s nine steps of interrogation are:

  1. Direct confrontation. Advise the suspect that the evidence has led the police to the individual as a suspect. Offer the person an early opportunity to explain why the offense took place.
  2. Try to shift the blame away from the suspect to some other person or set of circumstances that prompted the suspect to commit the crime. That is, develop themes containing reasons that will psychologically justify or excuse the crime. Themes may be developed or changed to find one to which the accused is most responsive.
  3. Try to minimize the frequency of suspect denials.
  4. At this point, the accused will often give a reason why he or she did not or could not commit the crime. Try to use this to move towards the acknowledgement of what they did.
  5. Reinforce sincerity to ensure that the suspect is receptive.
  6. The suspect will become quieter and listen. Move the theme discussion towards offering alternatives. If the suspect cries at this point, infer guilt.
  7. Pose the “alternative question”, giving two choices for what happened; one more socially acceptable than the other. The suspect is expected to choose the easier option but whichever alternative the suspect chooses, guilt is admitted. As stated above, there is always a third option which is to maintain that they did not commit the crime.
  8. Lead the suspect to repeat the admission of guilt in front of witnesses and develop corroborating information to establish the validity of the confession.
  9. Document the suspect’s admission or confession and have him or her prepare a recorded statement (audio, video or written).

In many cases police have taken the technique too far, taking advantage of young or mentally challenged individuals who firmly believe they will be permitted to walk out there door if they only tell police what they want to hear; or doing excessively long interviews, wearing people down. Reid warns against such methods, but the amount of wrongful convictions based on false confessions indicates that police aren’t in fact obtaining the truth and solving many crimes. They are doing whatever is necessary to get a confession to make it appear as if the crime has been solved.

Hopefully the move away from the Reid Technique will result in fewer false confessions.

 

Steven Avery Case: Were the Remains Identified via Junk Science?

Everyone accepts the assertion that Teresa’s remains were found on the Avery property, but I wouldn’t be so quick to accept that conclusion. Remember that there is no evidence there were ever any bones found on the Avery property. Investigators can say what they want, but not a single photo captured this very important evidence. We are to blindly trust that they found bones where they claimed — in the burn pit and the burn barrels. It would be simple to fabricate this evidence. Agent Pevytoe even testified that the alleged bone fragments were smaller than half a pinky nail and that much of what was found was actually burnt insulation.

How were the remains identified?

The bones were so badly burned that only a single testable bone — reported to be a 2 1/2 inch section of a shin bone survived. The bone allegedly still had remaining tissue intact. How is it possible that a bone survived? The teeth were burned beyond any identification. Teeth are supposed to outlast bone when exposed to fire. Dr. Simley testified that he could crush the dental fragments with his fingers. They were consistent with cremains, not a body burned in an open fire.

Dr. Simley did not find a single tooth suitable for comparison to Teresa’s dental x-rays. He had never seen such an extensive amount of damage. He found root fragments. In fact he super-glued two sections of a root together and stated that they were “consistent” with one of Teresa’s roots. I have searched and have been unable to find a single case where remains were identified from a root. It’s likely because roots are pretty plain. They do not have unique enough identifiers to conclude that they belong to any certain person. That is likely the reason he could not make a positive identification.

Consider what a root looks like.

roots-image

This is how the roots appear on a dental x-ray

root-x-ray

How is it possible that burned-up super-glued root sections were even stated as “consistent” with Teresa’s?! Were they consistent simply because it was identified as a root? This seems like junk science. Forensic bite mark evidence has recently been discredited and this type of evidence should probably be discredited as well. Many are under the mistaken impression that Teresa’s teeth were found in the burn pit. There is NO evidence that is true!

Dr. Simley’s testimony, Brendan Dassey trial

Q: Would you tell us or describe for us the condition of – – uh, these — the 24 tooth fragments and the three bone fragments that you examined?

A. They were all burned. They were all charred. Uh, they were very brittle. Um, again, they didn’t look like normal tooth like we would normally see, and essentially, the crowns were all gone. What we were looking at was just the root structure, which was, um, part of the tooth that’s buried in the bone. There was one portion of a crown, um, but that portion was from a — cuspid or an eyetooth and was not able to be identified.

Is it possible investigators gave him a box of random cremains? I think it’s very possible, in fact likely.

Next, consider the DNA from the shin bone that miraculously survived. There were major problems with this as well. Both Dr. Eisenberg and Sherry participated in the process of identifying the remains with this same bone. Sherry tested the tissue; Eisenberg sent the bone to the FBI.

  • Sherry reported that she only obtained seven of sixteen markers in her STR DNA test because the tissue was too degraded; yet her results were accepted as a MATCH to Teresa’s DNA.

DNA pic

  • Eisenberg sent the bone to the FBI who reportedly tested “charred remains” using Mitochondrial DNA testing and reported that Teresa couldn’t be ruled out as a contributor. If they had a suitable bone for testing, why didn’t they use that for the mitochondrial DNA testing?
  • A year later the FBI received dozens more bone fragments, none of which were suitable for DNA testing.

shin-bone3

I am not convinced that the remains (from who knows where) matched Teresa Halbach. In fact, there is no chain of custody to reflect how Culhane even received the bone into her lab. Dr. Eisenberg testified that she shipped it directly to the FBI after identifying it as human remains. Sherry wouldn’t have received it before Dr. Eisenberg, as it wouldn’t have been identified as human at that point.  If there is no proof there were remains on the property (there isn’t) and there is no conclusive identification of the remains (there isn’t), how can Avery be responsible for Teresa’s death? We’re left with nothing but the car on the property and the (very questionable) blood inside. Is that enough evidence to prove a person was murdered there? Or anywhere for that matter?

It doesn’t add up. IF a shin bone survived, the teeth should have survived! It is impossible to trust any of this evidence.

There Was No Bonfire on Halloween: Making A Murderer

The state alleged that Steven Avery burned the victim’s body in a huge bonfire behind his trailer and burned her personal effects (cell phone, camera and palm pilot) in a burn barrel in the front area of the home the evening of 10/31/05.

burn pit behind trailer
burn pit behind trailer

 

burn barrel
burn barrel

While reviewing all of the initial statements made by Steven Avery and the others who had been on the property that day, I noticed that not a single person mentioned a bonfire on October 31 – the day Teresa Halbach disappeared. The witness statements evolved considerably over time so that by the time Brendan Dassey was arrested everyone believed there was a bonfire and/or burn barrel fire on Halloween night.

Let’s examine the statements beginning with the early interviews. Steven Avery was interviewed by Detective O’Neill with the Marinette County Sheriff’s Office on November 5 (the day Teresa’s RAV 4 was found) and again on November 6.

Steven Avery’s interview 11/6/05 @ 29:57:

Q: When’s the last time you burned?

A: Two weeks ago.

Q: What did you burn, just regular garbage?

A: Just garbage.

Steve Avery was interviewed again by Special Agent Fassbender on November 9, 2005, which was the day they arrested him on the weapon’s violation.

SA burn barrel statement 11-9-05

Exhibit-51-Avery-burn-barrel-1024x671Blaine Dassey was interviewed on November 7, 2005 — two days after the RAV 4 had been found at which time the burned phone parts and some of the bones had already been found in the burn barrels near Steve Avery’s trailer and the Janda/Dassey residence. Note that Blaine got off the bus with Brendan Dassey at approximately 3:45 p.m. He had plans that evening to go trick-or-treating with a friend and the fact that it was Halloween made it more likely that he would remember a bonfire that evening.

Blaine was first asked about the burn barrels.Blaine burn barrels 1

Then he was specifically asked about a bonfire.

Blaine burn barrels 2

And he further explained later in the interview that there was supposed to be a bonfire that Thursday but it was cancelled. This is important because Brendan Dassey’s statement about the bonfire was consistent with Blaine’s.

Blaine burn barrels 3

Trial testimony revealed that Blaine was interviewed by investigators again on November 11, November 15 and again on unknown dates. Between his initial interview and his trial testimony, Blaine’s statement about the bonfire changed. (Called by the state, day 12 p 52-107)

Blain burn barrel trial1

Later questioning . . .

Blaine trial 2

 

Blaine admitted during defense cross examination that he did not mention anything about any fires in his initial interview with investigators.

Let’s look at Bobby Dassey’s testimony (beginning on p 33)

Bobby testimony about bonfire

 

later . . .

Bobby testimony about bonfire2

Bobby’s testimony was consistent with what Steven told the investigators in his early interviews – there hadn’t been any bonfires since approximately two weeks prior to 10/31/05.

Scott Tadych: There are three documented interviews of Scott Tadych. Scott was dating Barbara Janda at the time of Halbach’s disappearance.

Interview 1November 10, 2005    No mention of a fire

 

tydach fire 1

Interview 2   November 29, 2005  This time he mentions a fire

Tydach fire2

Interview 3 March 30, 2006 This time the fire is described as “big”

Tydach fire 3

 

Finally, at trial Tadych described a fire with flames “as high as the garage” and he testified that it was the fire that stuck out the most about his day. (beginning p. 122)

Taydach fire 4

Taydach fire 5

Notice how Scott’s statements evolved from no mention of a fire to a fire to a big fire with ten feet flames. Were police pressuring him to provide a statement in support of their theory?

Brendan Dassey was interviewed on November 6, 2005. @11:30 he stated “We were gonna have a bonfire on Thursday . . .” He went on to explain that his mother, Barbara Janda cancelled the bonfire. There was no mention of a bonfire October 31, 2005. In fact, Brendan was the first person to mention a bonfire at all. Did investigators use the information to create a story that there was a “bonfire” on Halloween because it would sound incriminating to a jury?

Brendan was interviewed at his school by Detective Wiegert and Special Agent Fassbender on February 27, 2006. At the very beginning of the interview, the investigators told Brendan that there had been a bonfire. They stated it as if it were a fact confirmed by many when the truth is no one mentioned a bonfire in any initial interviews. They didn’t ask him if there was a fire, they TOLD him. That is not a proper way to conduct an interview.

BD confession 1

Note that the information about burning a seat referenced a fire that occurred weeks before October 31 but by February time had passed and it became easy to convince Brendan that the bonfire occurred on Halloween. Police needed this to support their theory — that the body was burned that night because bones were allegedly found in the burn pit behind the garage. I say allegedly because investigators did nothing to document that the bones were ever in the burn pit. See this article for more information about the bones.

It seems that by the time of Brendan’s arrest everyone had accepted as fact that there was a bonfire in the burn pit behind Steven Avery’s garage on October 31, 2005. During the Making a Murderer documentary, a phone conversation has Steven discussing it with Barbara.

“That night he (Brendan) came over, we had the bonfire and he was home by 9:00 because Jodie called me at 9:00 and I was in the house already.”

I believe even Steven became convinced that they were burning things on the 31st because everyone accepted it as fact, but it’s much more likely that the most recent fire occurred weeks earlier as told by Steven, Brendan and Blaine in initial interviews – when their memories would have been most reliable.

If we consider the possibility that there was no bonfire on Halloween, we can also consider the likelihood that there was never a body or phone and camera parts burned on that property. The remains were in a condition consistent with a cremation. No crowns of the teeth remained; only root fragments (link). The condition of the bones combined with the fact that the collection wasn’t documented with a single photo and the indications that there was no bonfire on 10/31 means that we must consider that not only was the key, the blood and the bullet planted — so were the bones, and there is a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence to support this claim.