FBI Policy of Not Recording Polygraph Interrogations an Issue in Colorado Murder Case

Denver Post reporter Nancy Lofholm reports in an article titled, “Blagg interrogation at issue.” Excerpt:

GRAND JUNCTION – On the morning of Feb. 5, 2002, Michael Blagg failed a two-hour polygraph exam conducted by an FBI expert. Later that day, after more than 10 total hours of interrogation, Blagg allegedly broke down, sobbed, prayed and came close to confessing that he killed his wife and daughter, according to investigators.

Jurors will not be told the results of the polygraph exam because it is not admissible in court. And if defense attorneys have their way, jurors also won’t hear about Blagg’s alleged near-confession about four months after he reported his wife and daughter missing.

Blagg, 40, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Jennifer Blagg, whose body was found in the Mesa County landfill near Grand Junction in June. She had been shot in the head at close range while she slept at the couple’s home. Their 6-year-old daughter, Abby, is still missing and presumed dead.

In a day of testimony on a defense motion to suppress information, Blagg’s attorney, Mesa County Public Defender David Eisner, attempted to show that Blagg’s Feb. 5 statements were coerced and may not have been reported accurately because they were not recorded.

FBI agent Bill Irwin was called in to test Blagg after officers with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department administered a polygraph to Blagg on Nov. 13, 2001, the day he reported his wife and daughter missing. One officer concluded from the first exam that Blagg was being deceptive. A second officer who reviewed the exam results said they were inconclusive.

Irwin said he didn’t doubt the results of his test.

“I confronted him (Blagg) when he failed the polygraph,” Irwin said on the stand Monday. “I told him ‘It’s clearly obvious you know where Jennifer and Abby are. and you can take me to them.”‘

Irwin said that because of the results of the polygraph, he spent the next two hours interrogating Blagg. Investigators with the Sheriff’s Department took over and questioned Blagg for another four hours.

One of Eisner’s key contentions is that the polygraph and subsequent interrogation were not recorded and thus might not be accurate. Another FBI agent and two sheriff’s investigators took notes during the polygraph and questioning from a video feed.

The questioning was not taped because the FBI has a policy of not allowing video or audio taping of polygraphs unless FBI administrators grant special permission. Irwin said he has never recorded any of the more than 700 polygraph exams he has administered in nearly 17 years with the FBI.

An FBI spokeswoman in Denver said she doesn’t have an explanation for the no-recording policy. “We’ve just never done it,” spokeswoman Ann Atanasio said. “That’s always been our policy.”

The FBI’s deliberate policy of not recording polygraph interrogations gives FBI polygraphers carte blanche to use coercive (and even illegal) interrogation tactics secure in the knowledge that any misconduct on the polygrapher’s part can never be proven in court. For more on FBI Special Agent Bill Irwin, see the public statement of Captain Christopher J. Stein, whom SA Irwin accused of being a spy.

For more on the harm that the FBI’s policy of not recording polygraph examinations has caused, see U.S. Attorney James B. Comey’s Report to Judge Jed S. Rakoff on the Polygraph Interrogation of Abdallah Higazy and the discussion thread, Polygraph helps coerce false confession.

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