NBC Dateline Touts Polygraph “Test” of Diane Zamora

[Updated Monday, 9 April 2007] In a journalistic nadir, NBC Dateline on Sunday, 8 April 2007 presented a story, “Diane Zamora: ‘I’m Not a Killer,'” prominently featuring the results of a polygraph “test” that Dateline arranged for Zamora, a former U.S. Naval Academy midshipman who is serving a life sentence for murder in a Texas prison. Dateline’s producers should have known — had they done their homework — that polygraph “testing” is not only “not foolproof,” as reporter Stone Philips allows, but in fact has no scientific basis at all. Additional information on the broadcast is available in “Diane Zamora and the Lie Detector Test Results” on the Inside Dateline blog.

The following is an excerpt from the program transcript:

After hearing her story and taking a closer look at the evidence, do you believe Diane Zamora? Did she go along that night to question Adrianne Jones, or to kill her? Before you make up your mind, there’s one more piece of the puzzle you might want to consider: Having lost her appeal in the Texas courts, Zamora did something this past February she’s wanted to do for years. With the approval of her lawyer, she took a lie detector test arranged by ‘Dateline.’

Exactly one week after she had taken the polygraph examination, we saw Zamora again. From the expression on her face, it was clear she had no idea what the results were. She was about to find out.

Stone Phillips, Dateline correspondent: So, you took the polygraph. How did it go? What was it like?

Diane Zamora: I was very nervous.

Phillips: You spoke with the examiner at length before the test began. He went over every question with you in advance.

Zamora: Yeah, he–well, he told me all the questions. And went over what my answers would be to each question.

Phillips: And then he hooked you up for the examination.

Zamora: Uh-huh. Yes, sir.

Phillips: The examiner reported that you altered your breathing at certain points. What’s called a “counter measure” to try to influence the outcome of the test.

Zamora: No, I was so nervous. I hadn’t even slept the night before.

Phillips: The examiner says he repeatedly asked you to breathe normally.

Zamora: No, he asked me–

Phillips: To stop with the exaggerated hyperventilating–

Zamora: No, it–

Phillips: And that you did not do that. You continued to do it throughout the exam.

Zamora: I didn’t hyperventilate. I was trying to breathe deep to calm myself. Cause, I was really very nervous. And I remember at one point he told me I was breathing to breathe. So, I tried not to breathe as deeply as I was.

Phillips: Despite the unusual breathing, here’s what the examiner found. We’ll–we’ll go through ’em.

(1) Did you tell David to kill Adrian Jones? Your answer?

Zamora: No.

Phillips: Deception.

(2) Did you strike Adrian Jones?

Zamora: No.

Phillips: Deception

3) Were you truthful when you stated that the detective read and showed you David’s statement before you prepared your own? Deception.

4) On the questions about, “Did you plan with David Graham to cause the death of Adrianne Jones.” Your answer….

Zamora: No.

Phillips: Significant physiological responses indicating deception. Deception was indicated on every one of the relevant questions in the case.

Zamora: Then that should tell you something, cause you know I didn’t strike her. I proved that already.

Phillips: So, why would a polygraph test indicate that you were being deceptive, when you answered that you hadn’t struck her?

Zamora: I don’t know. Like I said, I was nervous. I guess what made me so nervous is hope. Something I previously didn’t have. And that’s what was so scary–hope–and not wanting it snatched away from me. That made me very nervous.

We shared the results with two independent experts. They told us that because of Zamora’s altered breathing they would have ruled the exam inconclusive–no opinion due to probable countermeasures….

But one agreed Zamora’s responses to all of the key questions indicated deception. And the examiner who administered the test said, in spite of the counter measures, in his opinion, Zamora failed.

Phillips: Many examiners, if they felt that you were altering your breathing and ignoring their warnings not to, would stop the test right there. I’m just gonna ask you very directly Diane, did you try to influence the outcome of this examination?

Zamora: No, I tried to keep myself calm.

Phillips: It’s not admissible in court. It is not foolproof. It is just another piece of the puzzle.

Zamora: To me it just doesn’t make sense. And I know it doesn’t hold in the court. I know that. But it was important to me. Important to my family. And that’s what really mattered to me. I went in with good intentions and high hopes.

Phillips: Well, it took some bravery to take this test. It would also show some bravery to accept the results. Do you accept the results?

Zamora: I don’t believe them. I know that they’re not true. But like I said, I’m not giving up.

Dateline offers these lie detector results as a “piece of the puzzle.” But they are, in fact, evidence of nothing except perhaps a lack of competence (or journalistic integrity) on the part of Dateline’s producers. As mentioned earlier, polygraph testing has no scientific basis to begin with. Moreover, neither hyperventilation nor deep breathing are genuine polygraph countermeasures because they cannot in any way help a person to pass a polygraph test. Polygraph operators are taught that examinees should breathe at a rate of about 15-30 breaths (in and out) per minute, and that anything outside that range is evidence of purposeful manipulation. But it is not at all unusual for people to breath more slowly and deeply in a stressful situation, just as it appears Diane Zamora did.

Had Zamora been trying to beat the polygraph, the way to do it would have been to ensure that her breathing remained within the 15-30 breaths per minute range and to covertly augment her reactions to the so-called “control” questions using techniques that polygraph operators have no demonstrated ability to detect. For details on how this can be accomplished, see AntiPolygraph.org’s free e-book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.

Zamora’s polygraph results yielded no evidence that could help Dateline’s viewers to reach an informed opinion regarding the facts of her case, and it is deplorable that an ostensibly serious news program resorted to such a blatant ratings gimmick.

Comments 4

  • ceartain people know when they are being lied to give them a good prop with lots of dials and wires and the can make a movie actor tell the truth sometimes

  • Polygraphs can be useful in the first stages of a criminal investigation, to let investigators eliminate suspects, not necessarily to exonerate a hard-hearted sociopath, like Diane Zamora, who has had ten years to learn counter measures. I thought it was hilarious when Zamora failed. She robbed a beautiful young girl of her life, filled with hope. She took away the heart of a wonderful family, who will suffer every day without Adrienne. Hopefully, she will come to terms with what she’s done, and seek forgiveness from God, and from the Jones family. Otherwise, I hope she has a long and miserable life behind bars, and never sees one free day in the sun.

  • I think that this episode was very valuable. Everyone knows that a polygraph test is not admissible in court, is not foolproof, and can be beat by a savvy criminal or anyone who doesn’t believe that they are guilty. Remember the test only measures body changes, not whether a person is lying. I found the show interesting because of Zamora’s body language while explaining her side of the story. She has the coldest eyes that I’ve ever seen, this side of Ted Bundy. Not just on this show, years after spending time behind bars with other criminals – but she was cold and without any remorse during her trial. She tried her best to squeeze out tears during her “drama queen” defense direct testimony but immediately became nasty during cross examination. She hurt herself by testifying on her behalf but, just like most sociopaths, she thought that she was smarter than the state’s prosecution team. She came off as a real uppity “b***h” with no remorse, rather than a frightened, wrongly accused, naive, young person. Of course one would not be remorseful about killing someone if they are innocent but Zamora never expressed any sorrow over the death of a young woman in the prime of her life. Even if she and the deceased were alleged “romantic rivals”, a human being was still dead. Zamora didn’t care a bit about that. During the “Dateline” interview, she was evasive in her responses, with her eyes shifting from side to side. I watched that “Dateline” show several times in the past year or so and I never got the impression that the Stone Phillips was out to “get” Zamora or to prove that she was right or wrong. It was a chance for Zamora to show the world that she MIGHT have been wrongly accused – or not. And she did the latter – not through the results of the polygraph test – but through her own continued attempts to “bamboozle” the public by believing that she is smarter than the rest of the world. Diana! You are no longer that straight-A student who got into Annapolis Naval Academy, thinking that you and your man were so much better than your peers. You now attend the University of Life W/O Parole”, majoring in “Criminal Justice” – you’re a “criminal” and Ms. Jones’ family got “Justice”. Stop your acting and let them at least get one with their lives. “Dateline” might have come up with the story line but YOU had to agree with it. Show some remorse and don’t put the Jones’, your family, or the state of Texas through this again!

  • Of course everyone knows that a machine cannot detect lies; quack scientists and detectives who promote their use should be fired and shunned. There is no reason to argue the point of the Adrianne Jones murder case. David Graham has already confessed to firing the gun that killed poor Adrianne. The Makarov 9mm pistol that killed Adrianne was owned by David Graham, not Diane Zamora. Detective Alan T. Patton of the Grand Prairie Police Dept. did not follow standard and professional police procedure when he took Ms. Zamora’s ” confession”. He did not videotape her writing and agreeing to the facts of the confession. If Detective Patton had been professional and followed procedure, we would not need a lie detector test at all. I agree with Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins who recently said that lying or unprofessional prosecutors or law enforcement officials should be held criminally responsible for lying or withholding evidence, etc. The problem has gotten really bad in Texas. I have worked in law enforcement in Texas for many years and I can tell you that this state has the most corrupt legal system and corrupt prisons that I have seen in any state. My advice would be to not come here or live here. There are many good attorneys here but they are frustrated in their efforts at justice because they know that most court judges have already decided the guilt of the defendant before the case even goes to trial. Polygraph results should never be admitted as evidence in a court of law. Thank God we have DNA evidence these days and it has cleared so many innocent people that have been locked away wrongfully in Texas’ corrupt prisons for so long. It is getting much harder for corrupt prosecutors to hide or withold or tamper with evidence now. North Carolina acted responsibly and professionally when it disbarred District Attorney Mike Nifong for witholding exculpatory evidence that would have exhonerated the boys in the Duke Rape case. Texas should follow the example of North Carolina.

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