A public radio report sheds light on some practices of law enforcement and investigators and the dangers of the interrogation room for those accused of crimes:
Homicide detectives are often required to confront the people they question. But in the case of a teenage girl whose baby has been dead for 27 hours and who pleads and cries through much of the interview, Truong’s attorney, Ed Ryan, says this is psychological torture.
“Their interrogation was designed not to determine the truth, not to get at the facts,” says Ryan, who wasn’t present for the interrogation, when Truong didn’t yet have a lawyer. “Their intention was designed to force her to confess to doing it in the way they figure she did it. They are the ones that force-fed her the word ‘suffocation.’ ”
Pageau also fed her the word “smother,” saying the medical examiner had determined Khyle had been smothered to death. But, in fact, the medical examiner said no such thing. Pageau was lying to Truong.
According to conventional training manuals, the purpose of interrogation is to get the suspect to incriminate themselves or, better yet, make a full confession. Confessions are considered the queen of criminal evidence, so in that room, Pageau does what he can to get the evidence he’s looking for.
The detective knows, as he will later acknowledge in court, that the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy a few hours earlier has not yet discovered a cause of death. But in the box, he betrays no doubt.
“I know how he died, which is why we are here,” Pageau tells Truong.
In fact, at this point, Pageau does not know how Khyle died. William Powers, a former Massachusetts State Police detective who has interviewed thousands of suspects and trained countless detectives, watched the videotape. He says that in Massachusetts, courts and judges take a particularly dim view of false statements by detectives.
According to Powers, “While they have never said flat out, ‘You cannot lie,’ it’s a real negative factor with the courts.”
The Worcester detectives continually lie to Truong while at the same time accusing her of lying to them every time she says she didn’t kill her baby.
FACT #1: Police can lawfully lie to you.
The article also details some other techniques.
“Maximization” is a technique detectives use to convey to the suspect the hopelessness of their situation. It’s meant to give the impression that continued denials will fail and that confession is an easier way out. And that’s just what Pageau does when he tells Truong, “If you think this is going to be like that other baby you were watching so well, you’re sadly mistaken.”
Eventually, the detectives switch from “maximization” to “minimization.” Pageau’s partner, John Doherty, offers Truong sympathy and plays down her responsibility for what they accuse her of doing. After all, Doherty tells her, “you’re just a kid.”
Finally, these officers proceed to something which the law does not allow: promises:
That’s when the detectives turn to another method of extracting a confession: making promises and offering inducements. They say they can get Truong help if she confesses.
“All everyone’s waiting for today is for you to admit to what you did so that we can start the process of getting you some help,” Pageau says, “getting your brothers out of that house and getting them in a better home, where there’s a mom that gets up in the morning and takes care of them.”
A few minutes later, Truong asks, “What kind of help am I going to get?” That’s when the detectives know they’re getting close. Pageau tells her there are women on the other side of the door who help children “like you.” But there are no women on the other side of the door.
He tells her that if she confesses, she will get help and leniency in the juvenile court, saying, “Keep it in the juvenile court. Keep it in the juvenile system, where punishment is minimal, if any — let’s say there is any.”
Bill Powers, who trains detectives through Boston University, says that’s where the Worcester cops cross a big, bright line of the law.
“We can’t make promises. We can’t say we will do things that we can’t do,” Powers says. “To say she will be tried as a juvenile versus as an adult, that’s not our call. That’s the call of the [district attorney’s] office.”
But Truong buys their promises.
“Do I have to say it?” she whispers.
The Court has weakened this rule in Alabama.