Staff writer Sharron Haley reports for the Sumter, South Carolina Item. Excerpt:
MANNING — In what some are calling a landmark decision, At-Large Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman allowed a defense attorney to introduce results from a polygraph test in the murder trial of Anthony Ray White.
White, who authorities say did not appear to be lying on a lie detector test, is charged with murder in the 2000 bludgeoning death of Mary Johnson. Johnson, 52, was found by family members in the living room of her Manning home.
“It’s very big,” defense attorney Harry Devoe said Wednesday about the judge’s ruling. “The Council case (a case used by Devoe to argue that the polygraph information be allowed) opened the door, and the new rules of evidence made it possible.”
The case, which began Tuesday at the Clarendon County Courthouse, is expected to go to the jury today for deliberations. The trial is expected to resume at 9 a.m. with closing arguments.
Prosecutor Ferrell Cothran says White killed Johnson in order to rob her of her money and illegal drugs. However, Devoe contends White is not the killer and never visited Johnson the night of the killing.
With the jury out of the courtroom on Wednesday, the prosecution and defense argued before Newman for almost 30 minutes on whether polygraph results should be allowed as evidence.
State Law Enforcement Division special agent Rick Charles, who has been administering polygraph exams for more than 15 years, told the judge that polygraph results are more reliable than handwriting analysis and eyewitness reports. Certain reports, he said, listed polygraph accuracy at between 85 and 95 percent.
Newman ultimately ruled in the defense’s behalf.
The admissibility of polygraph results is believed to be a first for general sessions court in South Carolina.
“I cannot recall,” retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Ernest Finney said late Wednesday from his home in Sumter. “It’s been a while and things have changed, but I do not recall it (polygraphs used in court).”
Third Circuit Solicitor Kelly Jackson agreed with Finney. He said that he’s never tried to use polygraph results because they weren’t accepted.
After the jury was allowed back into the courtroom, Devoe presented only two witnesses — Charles and the defendant.
Charles, who administered the polygraph exam to White in September 2001, testified concerning the questions that were asked during the exam.
To the question “Did you beat that woman?” White answered no, Charles said, noting there were no apparent signs that White was trying to be deceptive.
Charles testified that White also had answered no to similar questions with no apparent attempts to hide the truth.
Judge Clifton Newman has set a dangerous precedent. As Professor William G. Iacono notes in his article, “Forensic ‘Lie Detection’: Procedures Without Scientific Basis,” polygraph “testing” has no grounding in the scientific method. Moreover, polygraph “tests” are easily passed through the use of simple countermeasures that polygraphers cannot detect. (Did the suspect in this case know “the lie behind the lie detector?”) Polygraph chart readings have no probative value and should not be admitted as evidence in a court of law.