Longform

THE ULTIMATE TRUE-OR-FALSE TEST

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It irks the investigators that some people think they took the word of an attention-seeking fool and wound up arresting four convenient scapegoats from a Tucson barrio.

It was Crazy Mike" McGraw's call to authorities from a mental institution that eventually resulted in the arrests of the Tucson suspects, but investigators say they treated McGraw's statements with proper skepticism.

They claim to have talked to other people in Tucson who have made statements implicating the four men, and the sheriff has gone so far as to say that releasing the Tucson suspects has made some people nervous, and caused some sources to dry up. Some people, the sheriff intimates, are afraid for their lives now that, as McGraw has put it, the boys are back in town."

Only the insane and the guilty confess, according to this line of reasoning, and thorough police work protects the insane. The detectives assigned to the sheriff's interagency task force say their tactics were simply good interrogation methods. After all, they say, they have interviewed more than 500 people in connection with the case, and more than 20 suspects have been subjected to extensive interrogation. At least two people who confessed were released after the task force decided they were cranks, the sheriff says.

But not only the insane or guilty confess.
Gisli Gudjonsson, who frequently examines suspects for British police agencies and testifies as an expert witness in British courts, says his research, which has appeared prominently in scientific and legal journals, has shown that to elicit false confessions, police do not necessarily have to become abusive or even overtly threatening. Sometimes, he says, it is enough for interrogators to ply the egos and the secret guilts of their suspects.

Sheriff Agnos says that is exactly what his investigators did. He has said a good interrogator must be part psychologist-that a detective's lone ally is often the conscience of a suspect. Gudjonsson's research suggests that sometimes police interrogators do their work too well. ON NOVEMBER 26, four days after he was released from the Maricopa County Jail, the murder charges against him dismissed, Leo Bruce met the press.

The occasion was to announce his filing of a wrongful-arrest lawsuit against the county and Sheriff Agnos, an action seeking fair, reasonable and adequate" damages for the time Bruce spent in jail, injury to his reputation and the emotional and physical suffering he says he continues to endure as a suspect in the killings at Wat Promkunaram. (Two other ex-suspects also have announced plans to sue.)

Fixed in the crossfire glare of television lights in a conference room at his lawyer's office in Phoenix, 28-year-old Bruce haltingly read a statement declaring his innocence. Occasionally, a tear would track his face and, beneath his starched white shirt and loosened bola tie, his chest would tremble.

Every day, I worry about the gas chamber," he whispered. The detectives' threats about the gas chamber are always on my mind. Every day I worry that some evidence will be made up or twisted as a basis to arrest me again."

According to Bruce and his lawyers, his initial arrest was a Kafkaesque nightmare. Described as a good son who worked two jobs and whose only prior offense was a speeding ticket, Bruce was plucked up by the task force as he checked his mail at his Tucson apartment on September 12. He said he originally thought the officers wanted to question him about the ticket, that he thought there might have been some misunderstanding since he had elected to attend traffic school rather than pay the fine.

During the next 24 hours, Bruce would not only implicate himself in the crime, he would tell investigators he personally executed six Thai Buddhist monks, an acolyte, a temple helper and an elderly nun. Bruce said he shot each of the victims in the back of the head with his .22-caliber rifle.

Then, a few hours later, on the afternoon of Friday the 13th, he told detectives he had made the whole thing up and that he had an alibi for the weekend of the murder. He said he constructed his confession from information gleaned from charts in the task force's prop" room. He told investigators that he was sorry he had misled the investigators and that he made up his story because of the pressure you guys were putting me under."

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Philip Martin