News

Common police interrogation method deemed ineffective

From Vice.com:

Claustrophobic rooms and the presumption of guilt have been accepted practice for decades—and a staple of shows like ‘Law and Order.’ But actual cops are changing their ways.

This article was published in partnership with the Marshall Project

You may have never heard of the Reid technique, but chances are you know how it works. For more than half a century, it has been the go-to police interrogation method for squeezing confessions out of suspects. Its tropes are familiar from any cop show: the claustrophobic room, the repeated accusations of guilt, the presentation of evidence—real or invented—and the slow build-up of pressure that makes admitting a crime seem like the easiest way out.

That’s why it jolted the investigative world this week when one of the nation’s largest police consulting firms—one that has trained hundreds of thousands of cops from Chicago to New York and federal agents at almost every major agency—said it is tossing out the Reid technique because of the risk of false confessions.

Read more here.



Faking your own death

If the time has come to fake your own death, don’t make the rookie mistake of thinking an accidental drowning is a good way to hide the fact that there is no “body.”

Listen to the complete podcast at thisiscriminal.com:

People have faked death to escape criminal convictions, debts, and their spouses. In 2007, a man named Amir Vehabovic faked his death just to see who showed up at the funeral (answer: only his mom). It’s an appealing soap-opera fantasy, but actually disappearing requires an incredible amount of planning. How do you obtain a death certificate, a believable new identity, or enough money to start a new life? Today — the answers to those questions, stories of fake death gone wrong, and a man who spends his life bringing back the dead.

 



What your first day in prison is like

From Nick Chester of Vice.com:

British prisons are pretty unpleasant places, as myriad reports and the recent spate of riots in prisons across the country will attest to. One report, released at the end of 2016, found that a “toxic mix of violence, death, and human misery” has led to record numbers of suicides, with one in every 840 inmates killing themselves. Ten percent of suicides take place within the first three days of imprisonment, with the HM Inspectorate of Prisons acknowledging that the first day inside can have a major influence on the likelihood of suicide or self-harm.

I wanted to find out precisely what makes that initial 24 hours so daunting, so I asked four ex-cons to describe the day they entered the prison system in their own words. I spoke to former London gangsters Jason Cook and Paul Murdoch; Rob Butler, who was jailed for tax evasion; and Terry Daniels, who was remanded after being falsely accused of terrorist offenses. Here’s what they had to say.



Amazon objects to police request for echo device data in murder case

A murder investigation in Bentonville, Arkansas, has raised questions about privacy and smart devices inside one’s home that are always on. Amazon has objected to a subpoena from police seeking evidence from one of its Amazon Echo devices inside the home where the murder was believed to have been committed.

An Amazon Echo “smart” device

From the Washington Post:

While police have long seized computers, cellphones and other electronics to investigate crimes, this case has raised fresh questions about privacy issues regarding devices like the Amazon Echo or the Google Home, voice-activated personal command centers that are constantly “listening.” Namely, is there a difference in the reasonable expectation of privacy one should have when dealing with a device that is “always on” in one’s own home?

 

The Echo is equipped with seven microphones and responds to a “wake word,” most commonly “Alexa.” When it detects the wake word, it begins streaming audio to the cloud, including a fraction of a second of audio before the wake word, according to the Amazon website.

 

A recording and transcription of the audio is logged and stored in the Amazon Alexa app and must be manually deleted later. For instance, if you asked your Echo, “Alexa, what is the weather right now?” you could later go back to the app to find out exactly what time that question was asked.

 

Police did not specify what data they expected to find on Bates’s Echo — nor is it clear what the device could have captured that would have been relevant to the case. Only if someone happened to have triggered his device with its wake word would it have begun recording any audio. Even then, it seems unlikely that audio would be conclusive evidence of an alleged murder.

 



A look at ‘Fat Leonard’ and corruption charges in the Navy

For months, a small team of U.S. Navy investigators and federal prosecutors secretly devised options for a high-stakes international manhunt. Could the target be snatched from his home base in Asia and rendered to the United States? Or held captive aboard an American warship?

'Fat Leonard'  of the Navy bribery scandal

‘Fat Leonard’ of the Navy bribery scandal

Making the challenge even tougher was the fact that the man was a master of espionage. His moles had burrowed deep into the Navy hierarchy to leak him a stream of military secrets, thwarting previous efforts to bring him to justice.

The target was not a terrorist, nor a spy for a foreign power, nor the kingpin of a drug cartel. But rather a 350-pound defense contractor nicknamed Fat Leonard, who had befriended a generation of Navy leaders with cigars and liquor whenever they made port calls in Asia. (read more at washingtonpost.com)



Record number of 2015 exonerations in US

via The Atlantic

 

Last year a record 149 people were exonerated, continuing a trend that has risen for several years, the National Registry of Exonerations says in a report released Wednesday.

Those 149 people, counted in 29 states, the District of Columbia, federal courts, and Guam, had, on average, spent 14½ years in prison, the report said. Fifty-eight of those exonerated in 2015 were defendants in homicide cases, more than two-thirds were minorities, and about half were African American. Of 47 drug-related exonerations, another record, 42 pleaded guilty in Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston.

Additionally, the report said, 27 exonerations were for convictions based on false confessions—22 of them in homicide cases. And, of 58 homicide exonerations, 44 involved official misconduct by authorities. Record exonerations in 2015



Nancy Styler’s book on Nancy Pfister’s Aspen murder causes kerfluffle

via Aspen Daily News

Nancy Styler’s newly released book about the murder of Aspen resident Nancy Pfister rubs the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office the wrong way.

In her new book, Nancy Styler, once accused of murdering Aspen native Nancy Pfister, takes full advantage of the old adage that one cannot defame the dead.

Nancy Styler, left, and Nancy Pfister, right, as well as the cover of Styler's new book about the Aspen murder

Nancy Styler, left, and Nancy Pfister, right, as well as the cover of Styler’s new book about the Aspen murder

 

Longtime locals remembered Pfister, who was 57, as a free-spirited, travel-loving scion of the wealthy family who helped build Buttermilk and the Maroon Creek Club. But in the book “Guilt by Matrimony,” the victim is described as a mentally ill, volatile alcoholic, so unhappy in her life that Dr. William “Trey” Styler, Nancy’s late husband who confessed to the crime, said he sometimes thought his murdering her with a hammer “was the nicest thing anybody ever did for Nancy Pfister … .”



The balancing act of surveillance

via pursuitmag.com

Covert video surveillance is intelligence gathering in its rawest form. Many think all surveillance cases are the same: You just park down the street and chase your subject until the case is done.

When you have little or no experience in the art of surveillance, it might seem that way. In workers’ compensation, child custody or infidelity cases, the surveillance operative’s goal is essentially the same: to gather video evidence of any and all activity.

But zoom in on the details, and no two cases are alike. That’s why a surveillance operative needs to put each case into context from the start, as they balance their efforts with time constraints, case location challenges and the counter-surveillance forces arrayed against them.



The Problem with Hiring Liars to Catch Crooks

via vice.com

Willamette Week, an alternative newspaper in Portland, Oregon, recently published an astounding profile of George Taylor, a man who grew up smoking angel dust; who “has been a criminal since age 13,” according to a parole officer; who has “psychopathic traits,” according to a state psychiatrist; who has a “Heil Hitler” tattoo encoded in numbers and “White Pride” inked across his shoulders; who, starting at age 18, spent 23 of his next 26 years in prison; who once helped set a man on fire; and who, perhaps not surprisingly, given his history, was hired to help boost cell phones by a Detroit syndicate.



Attempting to define a gang member

A New York Times article explores how law enforcement tries to define gang members, and the use of “gang enhancements” in the legal system:

On a rainy day last December, in a courtroom in downtown Modesto, Calif., a 24-year-old white man named Jesse Sebourn, along with five co-defendants, sat accused of second-degree murder. The victim, Erick Gomez, was only 20 when he was shot to death. He was a reputed Norteño gang member who had lived just a few minutes’ drive from the working-class Modesto neighborhood where Sebourn was raised. The police estimate that there are as many as 10,000 gang members in Stanislaus County, where Modesto is, most either Norteños and Sureños, two of California’s most notorious Latino street gangs. The feud between them often turns deadly, and according to Thomas Brennan, the district attorney, this was one such instance: Sebourn and his co-defendants were Sureño gang members hunting for rivals on Valentine’s Day in 2013, when they found Gomez, out on a walk with his girlfriend.

Brennan was not saying that Sebourn had fired the gun; in fact, the accused shooter, Giovanni Barocio, had evaded arrest and is believed to be in Mexico, while witnesses and time-stamped 911 calls made it difficult to believe Sebourn had even been present at the scene when Gomez was killed. But according to the prosecution, Sebourn had set the entire chain of events in motion a few hours before the shooting, when he and two of his co-defendants tagged a mural eulogizing dead Norteños in an alley behind the building where Gomez lived. Sebourn and the others were caught in the act and beaten by Norteños, though they got away with little more than scrapes and bruises. But the prosecution argued that spray-painting over a rival’s mural was an aggressive act intended to incite violence — the equivalent of firing a shot. By this interpretation of events, the afternoon scuffle led directly to that evening’s murder: tagging, fisticuffs and finally, hours later, homicidal retaliation, each escalation following logically and inevitably from the previous. “Ask yourself,” Brennan said to the jury in his opening statement, “what are the natural and probable consequences of a gang fight?”

Click to read more.