Longform

THE ULTIMATE TRUE-OR-FALSE TEST

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When police officers believe they are interviewing a criminal suspect, they may use persuasive interviewing techniques," Gudjonsson said in a speech, The Psychology of False Confessions," he delivered in 1989 in Great Britain to the Royal Society of Medicine. That means they have certain hypotheses. They believe that person that they have in custody has something to do with the offense and they may be determined to prove their case. They may be persistent. They may not use obvious pressure, but they may be determined in their questioning."

And Gudjonsson believes some people may be prone to caving in to interrogators even if they are certain they did not commit the crime they are being questioned about.

There is a perception of immediate, desirable consequences," Gudjonsson said in his speech. These type of confessions are best explained by the subject's desire to escape from a highly stressful situation. The perceived immediate gain may be much more powerful than the long-term uncertain consequences of the confession, especially if people [think] that once their [attorney] comes he will sort it all out or they think, like some [innocent] people have told me, `Well, no court will convict me, I did not do it and even if I said I did it, clearly they are going to find the real offender and I am going to be let free.'"

Gudjonsson said it often doesn't make any difference whether the confession is real-because the relief is. They think, `This is good, I don't have to be questioned by the police anymore.'"

Unfortunately for these conflict-avoiders, once they confess, there is a high probability that their confessions will be accepted, according to Gudjonsson. A confession, he and many police say, more often ends a case than sends detectives scurrying off for corroborating evidence.

In the temple murder interrogations, according to the transcripts and tapes, investigators repeatedly reminded the suspects that they weren't picked up on a whim.

The cops repeatedly suggested to each suspect that he is simply the last link in the chain, that the suspects' little pact" had been violated and that all his criminal confederates were spilling their guts out in interrogation rooms just feet away.

Almost from the beginning, Sheriff Agnos says, investigators thought the murders at Wat Promkunaram were the result of a botched robbery by amateur burglars. It is not hard to see how Mike McGraw's scenario-that a wilding" party from Tucson broke into the temple for the purposes of robbery, killing the residents when the robbers were discovered-seemed plausible to the detectives. McGraw and Dante Parker had criminal records, and Mark Nunez was an unemployed alcoholic likely to go along with his friends.

Maybe the only unlikely suspect was Leo Bruce.
At 28, he was the oldest of the Tucson suspects, and the circumstances of his life were significantly different. While the others were unemployed, he had two jobs. While the others were living at home with relatives, he had his own modest apartment, where he had lived for three years. He had a car and a girlfriend. Bruce said he had not done more than say hello to Mike McGraw for about five years-since before McGraw went to prison for car theft. He says he didn't know Dante Parker, and that Mark Nunez was only a casual friend. He says he was friends with Victor Zarate, a man whom McGraw implicated but whom detectives released after a few days.

At his press conference, Leo Bruce seemed almost frail, the very picture of compliance. He was polite and soft-spoken, and his eyes rarely drew level; his head bobbed in supplication to the reporters' questions. He constantly looked to his lawyers before making his tentative answers. There was no reason to disbelieve his lawyers' central assertion: Leo Bruce was a good citizen.

Except that he had told police he shot nine people in the back of the head with a .22-caliber rifle.

It is possible to imagine that Bruce, who retracted his confession just minutes after concluding it, was just following his natural tendency to avoid conflict when he made the confession.

It may be that police officers have to place people under a certain amount of pressure," says Gisli Gudjonsson. Certainly when I was a police officer, I put people under pressure because I knew that if I did not put some people under pressure they would not confess. Most people do not confess if you say to them, `I have absolutely nothing on you.'"

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Philip Martin