Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: The Big How

In my last post, The Big Why, I explained why Preston Hughes signed the first confession though it was false. You should read that post before reading any further in this one. For the few of you who haven't read the previous post, the rest of us will wait here patiently while you catch up.

We'll wait here. Patiently. We promise.

Okay, let's ditch 'em. They should have read it beforehand. They shouldn't expect the rest of us wait. Who do they think they are, anyway?

It's not particularly difficult to make someone confess to a crime he did not commit. You just need to apply the same well-established psychological techniques you would use to make someone confess to a crime they did commit. You may not be familiar with those psychological techniques, but I assure you that the people who interrogate suspects are. I'll describe the techniques briefly, as best I can.

To get someone to confess (whether or not they committed the crime) you simply maximize and then you minimize. Maximize, then minimize. Lather, rinse, repeat.

When you maximize, you maximize the evidence against the suspect and you maximize the penalty he will face if he doesn't confess.

When you minimize, you minimize the suspect's legal and moral role in the crime and you minimize the penalty he will face if (and only if) he confesses.

That's it. It's so stinkin' simple. It may not seem to you that it will work, but it will, just as 25% of all DNA exonerees will tell you.

To do it right, you should be aware of a couple do's and don'ts.

As you maximize, do feel free to lie as you see fit, as long as you limit your lies to the evidence (or alleged evidence) of the crime. The federal courts have ruled repeatedly that such lying is A-okay. Even the Supreme Court, in Frazier v. Cupp, has condoned (and thereby encouraged) the practice.

As you minimize, do free to feel free to invent some bizarre scenario that would allow the suspect to put his involvement in a favorable light. Professionals call this alternate scenario "a theme." I call this alternate scenario "a bullshit." Don't be shy about how bizarre this scenario might be. It's important that you offer an alternative scenario, any alternative scenario. It's not important that the alternate scenario makes any sense whatsoever. As it turns out, it's not important even that the alternate scenario comport with the evidence.

Assuming you have been clever enough to not record the interrogation, make sure you promise the suspect that will he serve the max, even that he will be executed, if he does not confess.

Similarly, if you have been clever enough to not record the interrogation, assure the suspect that he will be treated leniently if he confesses to the alternate scenario.

Assuming you are foolish enough to record the interrogation, do not promise the suspect anything you cannot deliver. If you promise him leniency if he confesses and death if he doesn't, then the confession might be thrown out. You will have to walk a fine line. You will have to convince the suspect that he will be treated harshly if he does not confess, and leniently if he does confess, but you won't be able to be explicit. If the suspect somehow jumps to conclusions based on any perfectly innocent comments you make, then that's his problem.

I know that it's difficult to visualize how something this simple might work. I would be pleased to show you a video recording of Preston's confession so you could see these how it worked in his case, but I can't. Someone decided it would be best not to record Preston's interrogation. That someone decided not to make a recording even though the video equipment was right there ready to go. Now you know why that someone decided it best not to record, best to use his own words instead.

I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll reveal how the techniques were applied in the real world case of Michael Ledford. I'm somewhat familiar with that case, since I've been trying for several years to free him from prison as well. When I do that, you will get some sense of how these techniques are actually applied, and you will see that they work.

Grab a brew, settle in, and buckle up. Here we go.

The Maximization and Minimization of Michael Ledford
If you wish an overview of Michael's case, I suggest you read the executive summary from his not-yet-submitted petition for absolute pardon. Otherwise you can merely trust me that Michael confessed falsely to setting a fire that killed his one-year-old son and burned his young wife. (The fire actually resulted from a deteriorating electrical circuit.) Michael's 4.5 hour interrogation was recorded on video. I have spent many times 4.5 hours transcribing that video and studying it. I offer excerpts so that you to see some maximization and minimization techniques in action.

Maximizing the Evidence
As you read these excerpts, keep in mind that the police had zero evidence of arson, much less a fire set by Michael Ledford. Every bit of evidence claimed in the excerpts was simply a lie. Michael did not fail his polygraph test. The polygraph strip charts could therefore not indicate deception. There were no witnesses or experts who placed Michael at the scene while the fire was burning. There were no lab results indicating arson.

The first few excerpts are from the allegedly unbiased polygrapher, who officially declared the polygraph examination "Inconclusive", but who lied to Michael about the significance of the strip charts.
I'll tell you truthfully from a professional standpoint, you have not told the full truth. 
This is the other question here, you know, "Did you intentionally start that fire regarding, that fire which later caused Zach's death? Did you intentionally start the fire?" Look what happens right here. As soon as I started asking you that question how your blood pressure changes, right there, and also up here in the green. Same thing here. 
Same thing here. Same thing up in here. The question here "Did you intentionally start the fire?" There and there, it's really predominant. There you see something happening, and here you see it happening here. 
This chart, this is the last chart we did. Right here. Number 35 again. "Did you intentionally start that fire?" With that, with all [inaudible], that's a triple saddle basically, is what we call it. 
Now, Mike I'm going to be very honest with you. There's something about this fire that, and you setting the fire, that bothers you tremendously. 
[T]here is no doubt in my mind, the fire was intentionally set. 
The only thing that comes back around the spectrum is that you set the fire intentionally. And I can tell you from the preliminary reports that have come in, that the fire was set intentionally. It had to take direct contact. It had to come from that. ... You set the fire with the intentions of killing your wife and your child. 
[T]hey have got eyewitnesses. Not one, but several eyewitnesses that can put you there at the apartment at the time this expert says that fire started. 
[Y]ou take the reports that have come in from the lab, from these experts that have been called in, and from what Mr. Ritchie tells me, the next step that they have to do after this is, as far they're concerned, this is over, it's gone. 
Monday, this week, when we had an expert do a time burn ... which puts you there when the fire was ablaze. So there's no doubt that that happened. 
I'm, I'm telling you ... the experts will say "This is where the fire was set" and you [inaudible] the candle was over here somewhere. 
Now, scientifically we can show ... what you tell us is not the truth. Testimonily ... we've got these witnesses that can come in and, and, and show that some ... facts you've given us are not truthful. Mike, now is the time to lay it on the line. I'm, I'm being just up front with you.
Maximizing the Punishment
Now I don't know if you've ever been caged up like an animal or not. But that's exactly what's at the end of this Y right up here. Okay? 
Now, it's an easy road or it's a hard road. It's a simple as that.
And you'll be hard pressed to convince any jury in this county, or in Augusta County that you didn't intentionally leave it burning. You'll be hard pressed to do that. 
One of the things people get sentenced hard on these days is domestic violence. And they're going to look at this case and say "Well, this is a case of domestic violence. We're not going to have any mercy on this guy.
Do you want to leave it in the hands of twelve people on the jury, and I guarantee you eight of 'em are going to be women, eight of 'em are going to be mothers, so you might as well go ahead and tell the truth right now. 
And buddy, I'm going to tell you one thing right now, and I'm going to level with you, when it gets down to it and these jurors see this, and I see it all the time, they're going to be hard, they're going to come down hard on you. And I wanna prevent that.
Minimizing Michael's role: The Theme
And I wouldn't tell you that if I genuinely wasn't interested in getting you the help you need. I'm not here to hurt you. I'm here to help you. I do not want to see you have to go through and feel any more pain than what you already feel. I want you to believe that. That I do sense through the training, with the training that I've had, I don't call myself a psychologist, I don't do that, but I do sense that you've got a psychological problem that's going to get worse if you don't get help. And I can tell you that if you don't tell the full truth about this that it's only gonna get worse. 
I do sense that you've got a psychological problem that's going to get worse if you don't get help. And I can tell you that if you don't tell the full truth about this that it's only gonna get worse. 
You got a problem. You got a problem. Family problems. Emotional problems. A spur of the moment thing. We don't have something that's planned out, here. Spur of the moment thing that got out of hand. It's what we need to hear from you right now. 
I don't think it was with the intention that I've come to record, the intention of burning down the entire building. Uh, it was probably meant more, uh, I won't say as a joke, but meant something along the lines of, uh, uh, an attention getter. 
I don't think you intentionally deliberately set it with the intentions of harming anyone. You did not do that. 
And with this fire right here, if Elise hadn't opened that door, and let the smoke in, it probably wouldn't never hurt Zach. 
You did not intend to harm your wife, or the fact that your child is gone. You'll remember Zachary the rest of your life. You think about him a lot. So that just happened. ... But for some reason, ... whether ... the in-laws caused a problem, whether it was an argument with the wife, whatever, got out of hand, and, uh, you wanted to set that fire. You'll come back and show your father-in-law or show Elise that "I'm the man of the house. I saved your life, I protected you," this and that. Fire is crazy. You know fire is crazy. You can't, can't predict it. You were there. There to save them. Fire got out of hand. You were there for the purpose of rescuing them. 
Mike, you've got a psychological problem. 
You can't take care of it by all of the denials.
Minimizing the Punishment
You've got to get help. You need help. You've got to get help. And the only way you are gonna get it is to, to help yourself. Now, if you was an alcoholic or a drug addict, then how would you get help? First of all you've got to admit "I've got a problem." It's the same thing here. You got a problem. You've got to get the help that you need. You've got a psychological problem, if you want my personal opinion. You can get help for that. Do it before it is too late. That is up this road, not down that road.
The only thing that will get you that help, Mike, is for you to take it on yourself, to stand up and make the admission you need to admit. 
I'm not here to hurt you. I'm here to help you. 
The only thing I'm interested in is the truth. You're at a point to where you have to make a decision. You're at the crossroads today. You're right up here. You either have to go off to the right, which leads you absolutely nowhere, or you've gotta go over here where you can get help. Help for you and help for the family. You can get that second chance that you say you think people deserve. And I'm of the frame of mind just like you. I believe that people deserve a second chance. Everybody makes silly mistakes in life. 
I'm concerned with helping you. ... You went through a very tragic type thing, and I want to help you get through it if I can. 
And part of the rehabilitation is to be able to admit to, uh, to the things I think Stan [the polygrapher who lied about the test results] probably talked to you about. Stan's a good man. He's, he's, uh, a chaplain with us and I know, I know you been, you've been a religious person your whole life, but he's, he's the kinda person that, uh, that probably would advise you right, uh, in that you need to get, uh, start the, uh, healing process you got to admit that what you did was not right. And that, though it, it, uh, didn't really turn out the way that, uh, you thought it would, matter of fact it went totally haywire, it, uh, didn't turn out, uh, good at all.
Believe it or not, it worked. After 32 times denying that he had started the fire, Michael Ledford came to believe that he must have started it, even if he didn't remember doing so. They convinced him he had a psychological problem. Here is how Michael began the oral portion of his confession.
Okay. I want the agreement that I will be sent for, I want the agreement that I will be placed in a psychiatric hospital. It evaluates my need, my problem, and afterwards getting help and get a trade, not necessarily make a good living at, but something where I will be away from people.
And here's how Michael ended his written confession.
I agree I need help and am willing to get the help. I just hope my Family and Friends and God can forgive me.
Though they never told him so explicitly, they convinced him that he would not go to prison. He believed he would be treated for his mental problem rather than punished. Though he was in Virginia at the time, he wondered if he would be able to receive his psychological help in his home state of Pennsylvania.
Is there any way possible that the health benefits could be in a different state?
The Maximization and Minimization of Preston Hughes III
Though we don't have a recording of Preston's interrogation, we can pretty easily figure out what went on in the HPD homicide interrogation room. We can figure it out based on Sgt. Gafford's police statement and Preston's behavior after the confession. We can figure out what happened because we now understand the basics of maximization followed by minimization.

Sgt. Gafford began the process by maximizing the evidence of Preston's guilt. Since there was in fact no evidence of Preston's guilt, Gafford simply relied on a lie. We know that Gafford told Preston that Shandra had identified him as her attacker. From Sgt. Gafford's report:
Sgt. confronted the suspect with the fact that the compl was given his name as the one who had stabbed she and the #2 compl. The suspect was visibly upset by this fact and Sgt continued that it was Sgts firm belief that he was in fact the one that had stabbed them.
Shandra, however, could not have told anybody anything about who stabbed her, unless they were nearby within 90 seconds of the knife passing through her carotid artery. (See item 1 of Plea and Summary) I suspect, but do not know and cannot prove, that Gafford was actually the first person to claim that Shandra gave a dying declaration. I suspect that Gafford created that "evidence" as he was maximizing the  case against Preston, as the Supreme Court has ruled he is allowed to do.

We can assume also that Gafford told Preston that he was at least going to be incarcerated. Recall from Gafford's report:
Sgt. Gafford the[n] continued the interrogation, and after a time continuing to deny involvement in the case, Hughes broke down, stating that he was afraid to go to jail, and that he did not want to go to jail. He admitted at this time to committing to the offense, and stated that he had killed the #1 compl ...
It seems odd that Preston would confess immediately after expressing his fear of jail and his desire not to go to jail. One would think that the best way to avoid jail, given Preston's circumstance, would be to not confess. Gafford's description seems more like a negotiation than an interrogation.

We know also that a bizarre alternative scenario came out of the interrogation. There never has been any independent evidence that Preston was actually in the field that night, or that a black male sneaked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder, or that Preston stabbed him 6, 8, or 10 times before recognizing that he was stabbing Shandra. This story was a product of the first interrogation. The question is which of the two people in the room first proposed the story.

I will point out that Sgt. Gafford would not have needed any input from Preston to make up this story. The story is a reasonable extension of the story that some woman's family threatened to kill Preston because he had kidnapped her. Police were apparently called to Preston's apartment over this issue but did not arrest him. Gafford was almost certainly aware of this, having reviewed Preston's files before he began the interrogation.  Again from his report:
Once in the homicide division Sgts checked Hughes for a criminal history or any warrants. Sgts located a HPD record under ID#465127, and notes two entries, 1985-Agg.Sexual Assault of a Child, filed in the 176th D.C., and -----------------filed in the 176th D.C. ---------------------- Sept/88, and after checking this and other reports in which Hughes was listed as a suspect, there was still nothing to show that this was the correct "Preston". [Hyphens are in the original.]
The hyphened case filed in September of 1988 (the same month as the murders) is almost certainly related to the alleged kidnapping and the counter alleged death threats. It's a perfect basis for the bizarre alternate scenario that came out of interrogation.

It was most likely Gafford that introduced the black-male-who-startled theme. It's likely he introduced that theme to minimize Preston's involvement in Shandra's stabbing. It's likely he then convinced Preston that if he confessed to that bizarre alternate scenario, that he would soon be going home rather than going to prison for life.

Going Home
Both Preston Hughes and Michael Ledford somehow believed that they would be going home soon if they confessed to murder. It may seem strange that either of them or anyone would do such a thing, but they both did.

Immediately after signing his first confession, Preston Hughes called his boss to let him know that he would miss one day, and just one day, of work.  From the testimony of Bill Lillico:
He did not say why, he just said he had been picked up by the police and that he would probably be able to be in to work the next day.
As Michael Ledford wrote out his confession by hand, one of his interrogators asked him when he had last visited his wife in the hospital.
Monday. Going to get some sleep today then go a little bit tonight.
Instead of going home, each was charged with capital murder. Each had effectively signed his own death warrant.

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