Polygraph Unreliability Underscored in Oregon Murder Case

In an article entitled, “Key witness now prime suspect,” staff writer Michelle Roberts of The Oregonian reports that Mr. Humberto Castro Soler, who testified that he watched Mr. James Bryant shoot a Salem woman and her boyfriend over a 1999 drug deal gone bad, is now the prime suspect in those murders. Mr. Soler had “passed” a polygraph “test” administered by a Portland police officer, while Mr. Bryant had “failed.” The following excerpt underscores the unreliability of polygraph chart readings and the dangers of placing any confidence in them:

Polygraph questions

Police have made no secret about why they relied on Soler.

He passed a polygraph test administered by Portland Police Detective Sgt. Glenda Leutwyler, a respected polygrapher who handles dozens of cases every year for the district attorney’s office.

Although polygraph results aren’t admissible in court, they are often used as investigative tools.

Without the test, no detective worth his badge would have hinged a high-profile murder case on the word of a man like Soler, who has spent most of his adult life in prison for a string of armed robberies and drug charges.

Soler was not offered a plea agreement until he passed Leutwyler’s polygraph Oct. 24, 1999. Police thought they’d solved their case, their confidence underscored when Clark, who insisted Soler was the shooter, failed Leutwyler’s exam Oct. 29, 1999.

But in recent months, three polygraph experts have challenged those results.

David Raskin, an Alaska-based polygraph expert Bryant’s lawyers hired in October, examined Soler’s test and deemed it inconclusive.

Raskin criticized Leutwyler’s results, saying that detectives were eager to believe Soler and “made great efforts to reassure (Soler) that they wanted and expected him to pass.”

Raskin also found different results for Clark’s polygraph test, saying it was inconclusive about whether she saw Soler shoot Pawloski, but truthful about seeing Soler shoot Schneider.

Leutwyler defended her results and discredits Raskin as a hired gun for the defense whom Bryant’s attorneys “had to go all the way to Alaska to find.”

At the request of Clark’s attorneys, Stan Abrams, a local polygraph expert, also analyzed Leutwyler’s charts. Using his own scoring method, Abrams found Clark’s polygraph inconclusive.

When Abrams scored the results using Leutwyler’s method, he arrived at the same results she did. Both methods are accepted by the American Polygraph Association.

Ken Simmons, a former Oregon State Police polygrapher who now runs his own business, also deemed the results inconclusive.

“My results were tending in the same direction as Leutwyler’s . . . but I didn’t think (Soler and Clark’s) reactions were high enough to reach a conclusion,” Simmons said.

He also underscored why polygraph tests are not admissible in court and perhaps should not be used as a primary foundation for a major criminal case.

“The fact is that with polygraphs, even if they’re done well, there’s always a chance for error,” he said.

Jenny Cooke, who represents Bryant, and other defense attorneys involved in the case accuse prosecutors of standing by Leutwyler’s results “at all costs.”

“I think the prosecutor’s office won’t charge Soler because they’re terrified that this case is going to blow (Leutwyler’s) credibility all to hell,” Cooke said. “And what does that say about all the other cases they’ve used her for?”

Multnomah County Chief Deputy Norman Frink said he couldn’t comment on an ongoing investigation, but “People can assume we’re not fools.”

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