You’ve been arrested for a brutal murder you didn’t commit. The evidence is circumstantial, but the police are convinced you’re the killer. The prosecutor offers you a deal. They’ll drop the charges, but only if you take a polygraph test to prove your innocence.
What would you do?
Unfortunately this is no hypothetical, but rather a scene from a real life nightmare.
In 1978, Fred Ery was working in his general store in Perrysberg, Ohio, when a masked assailant burst in and shot him. Before he died on the operating table, he was able to tell his wife the name of his killer, and even gave detectives his address. It seemed like an open-and-shut case, and police soon had Floyd “Buzz” Fay’s house surrounded.
Fay later failed a polygraph test not once but twice. With the results admitted into evidence during his trial, he spent the next two and a half years in prison before he was exonerated when the mother of the real killer came forward. During this time, Fay became a vocal campaigner against the polygraph, even appearing on NBC’s “Today” show after his release to call for polygraph tests to be banned from criminal trials.
Nearly 40 years later, the polygraph still commands something of a towering cultural presence in modern day life. From Hollywood movies to infamous criminal cases to daytime television, it’s used as a definitive arbiter by both the justice system and entertainers.
But can a machine really detect lies?
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