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polygraph room | West Memphis Polygraph Room

West Memphis Police Polygraph Room      


The "P" Word
Prosecutor Brent Davis:  You mean you don't want him to mention the "P" word?
Judge David Burnett:  Yeah.
Attorney Val Price:  Okay, that's what I was gonna ask.  And that he's a "P" word person.
Burnett:  Yeah.  [Bench conference, Echols/Baldwin trial]
    Approximately a year before the murders, the West Memphis Police Department obtained a polygraph machine and Detective Bill Durham was certified as a technician.  Over the course of the investigation, nearly fifty individuals were polygraphed.

    The reasons why several individuals were not polygraphed were noted.  Using anti-epileptic drugs was one.
No polygraph - subject has seizures + takes Dilantin.  [Bill Durham notes, Gary Poindexter interview, May 12, 1993]
    This may have been why Mark Byers was spared.  Other individuals on psychoactive medications were polygraphed including:  Echols, taking an antidepressant; Timothy Dodson, being treated for schizophrenia; and, Thomas Polletta, taking medicine for PTSD.

    Mild retardation was presented as a reason for not performing a polygraph. 
Quirt is mildly retarded - has the mental capacity of about a 10 - 13 yr. old.  [snip]  He was fingerprinted but was not able to be polygraphed in Bill Durham's opinion due to his mental retardation.  [Hester notes, Quirt Gregory interview, May 19, 1993]
    Misskelley's borderline retardation did not excuse him, even though his mental age was argued to be within or below the range attributed to Gregory.  Detective Mike Allen testified he did not know Misskelley was mentally challenged.  
Defense attorney Dan Stidham: Did you know that he was slow or mentally deficient in any form or fashion?
Allen:  In my opinion he was - he could understand everything I was telling him and was responding back and didn’t appear to be - didn’t appear to be slow, no.  [Suppression hearing, January 13, 1994]
    The "P" word - polygraph - was linked to another "P" word in this case. During his confession, Misskelley was asked by Ridge if he knew what a penis was. This was presented by the defense as evidence the police were aware he was mentally slow.  Ridge defended his question.
Stidham:  Can you explain to me why you had to explain to him what a penis was?
Ridge: That is not a term that is normally used by everybody in the community.  [ibid]
Pass/fail

     There are currently 41 polygraph reports available for those who took the examination.  These included witnesses and suspects.  Many of the questions were not directed at whether someone was personally involved in the crime; a finding of deception is not necessarily related to guilt.  According to the reports, 13 individuals had shown at least one response classified as "deception indicated." 

    When one or more responses were deemed deceptive, a rationale was often provided in the post-polygraph notes.  James Martin, the child molestor, failed two questions:  "Do you know who killed those three boys?"  and "Do you know what was used to tie up those three boys?"   His reasons for failing were presented as
In the post test interview, the subject said he thinks shoe laces were used to tie the boys because logic tells him that the killer would use something already there. He also said he thinks the father of Steve Branch killed the boys.  [Durham notes, James Martin post-polygraph interview, May 19, 1993]
    Suspicion of someone was said to be sufficient to have Martin fail one question.  In his extended interview before the polygraph, he mentioned the stepfather of Stevie Branch as someone he suspected.   The other question, the specific knowledge of being tied with shoelaces was dismissed as something he had determined logically - even though in his interview he had said the perpetrator would be prepared and bring something to tie the victims. 

    Passing the polygraph was repeatedly equated with innocence.  Louis Larry Baldwin, a local child molestor and the uncle of Jason Howard Baldwin (the "other" Jason Baldwin), offered no verifiable alibi.  However, "Baldwin was scheduled to take a polygraph Friday July 2, 1993 at 10:00 a.m to clear up any suspicions of his involvement." [Mike Allen notes, Louis Larry Baldwin interview, July 1, 1993]    (He passed.)

    Kacie Crawford claimed to have heard Frankie Knight say his brother killed the boys. Knight was said to have threatened Kacie not to report this. On the bottom of her report, a large UNFOUNDED was scribbled in marker. Frankie Knight and his brother were said to have been "found to be clear of any suspicion at this point." Why? Knight's family knew the Byers, one of his brothers was friends with Ryan Clark. His older brother, David Wren, had amassed a remarkable criminal record for a teenager, including a jail break. In his interview Knight presented no alibi. But he did pass his polygraph. Wren also passed his polygraph.

        Questions 6 through 10 from the questionnaire
        Questions 6 through 10 of the Sudbury questionnaire.


Open to Interpretation

    Not only were results open to rationalization, they were open to interpretation. Detective Durham concluded Misskelley had failed his polygraph examination, "lying his ass off." Misskelley's attorneys recruited Warren Holmes, a polygraph expert who had worked on the John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations. Holmes read Misskelley's polygraph charts and concluded he had only lied about past drug use.

    If polygraphs are valid and Holmes was correct, then Misskelley is innocent. If polygraphs are invalid, the entire foundation of the investigation was flawed. 

A Lie Detecting Stone


    I have a lie-detecting stone.  It will dance and sing when people lie.  Over the course of my investigation, I place it in front of fifty people.  I interview them and it does nothing - it is, after all, a stone.  Later, after two of these individuals are found guilty, my stone can claim a 96% success rate.  It correctly did nothing when the 48 innocent people spoke in front of it, only failing to move for the two guilty. 

    The problems with polygraphs are more complicated than this. Unlike the stone, people do register responses. Deception, when the stakes are high, can initiate an elevated physiological reaction. The problem is that the results are not presented as such.  It was not said, "specific questions elicited unusually heightened reactions." It was said Misskelley was "lying his ass off." And there's the rub:  polygraphs are not given the weight of machines that etch out multiple graphs - they are claimed to be "lie detectors."

    Various figures are bandied about for the accuracy of polygraphs.  They are "95% accurate in the hands of a specialist."  (Not as accurate as my stone.)  Such statements make scientists cringe.  Scientists want data that speak for themselves, not ones that only communicate via an elite priesthood.  How does one know a given practitioner has that 95% accuracy or is only at 70%?  

    Polygraphs, in their ambiguities, solidify the prejudices of an investigation.  They blunt the rational investigation. The things that make a good suspect are prior behavior, connection to the victims, indirect or physical evidence. These should not be negated or held hostage to the degree of physiological reaction suspects exhibit when they lie or tell the truth.  

Bryn Ridge notes, Misskelley polygraph

 Detective Ridge notes, Misskelley polygraph.  "Lying his ass off"  

Gary Ray Chadwick 05-07-1993 (no deception indicated)
Timothy Robert Cotten 05-08-1993 (no deception indicated)
Damien Wayne Echols 05-10-1993 (deception indicated)
Christopher Douglas Littrell 05-10-1993 (no deception indicated)
Deanna Jane Holcomb 05-11-1993 (deception indicated to one question)
Murray J. Farris 05-11-1993 (no deception indicated)
Henry Franklin Knight 05-11-1993 (deception indicated to one question)
LG Hollingsworth, Jr. 05-11-1993 (deception indicated to one question)
Christopher Wayne Wahl 05-11-1993 (no deception indicated)
Kenneth Eugene Cagle 05-12-1993 (no deception indicated)
David Shane Wren 05-13-1993 (no deception indicated)
Edward Lynn Lucas 05-13-1993 (no deception indicated)
Richard Raymond Simpson 05-14-1993 (no deception indicated)
Jerry Alan Nearns 05-14-1993 (no deception indicated)
Timothy Wayne Dodson 05-14-1993 (no deception indicated)
Thomas Charles Polletta 05-14-1993 (no deception indicated)
Robert DeAngelo 05-15-1993 (no deception indicated)
Danny Wayne Leffler 05-15-1993 (no deception indicated)
Steve Dewayne Skaggs 05-15-1993 (no deception indicated)
William Lawrence Welch 05-15-1993 (no deception indicated)
Charles Douglas Morton 05-17-1993 (no deception indicated)
James Kenney Martin 05-18-1993 (deception indicated to two questions)
Anthony A Barnes 05-18-1993 (no deception indicated)
Michael Leiter 05-25-1993 (no deception indicated)
Charles Michael Craig 05-25-1993 (deception indicated to one question)
Joseph Michael Reneau 05-26-1993 (no deception indicated)
Richard Raymond Simpson 05-26-1993 (deception indicated)
Dustin Charles Boyle 05-26-1993 (no deception indicated)
Jeffrey Paul Looney 05-27-1993 (no deception indicated)
Victoria Hutcheson 06-02-1993 (no deception indicated)
Jessie Misskelley 06-03-1993 (deception indicated)
Jason Lance Crosby 06-08-1993 (no deception indicated)
Louis Larry Baldwin 07-02-1993 (no deception indicated)
David Sims 07-16-1993 (no deception indicated)
Ronald George 08-09-1993 (no deception indicated)
J. Allen (pseudonym)
09-10-1993 (deception indicated)
Kenneth Clyde Watkins 09-16-1993 (deception indicated to three questions)
Christie Dawn Jones 10-01-1993 (no deception indicated)
Sandra K. Nodini 10-04-1993 (deception indicated)
Kenneth Clyde Watkins 10-12-1993 (deception indicated to two questions)
Buddy Sydney Lucas 10-14-1993 (deception indicated to three questions)

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