“Interrogation Machine’s Maker Settles Crowe Suit”

San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Onell R. Soto reports. (The National Institute for Truth Verification, which markets the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA), had earlier admitted in court that their device is not capable of lie detection, but continues to suggest otherwise on its website):

The maker of a machine police used while interrogating the brother of slain Escondido girl Stephanie Crowe agreed to settle a lawsuit that accused it of making a faulty device that falsely led to murder charges, lawyers said in court yesterday.

Michael Crowe and two friends, Joshua Treadway and Aaron Houser, were initially accused in 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe’s stabbing death in 1998. Their lawyers said police falsely obtained confessions using the machine.

Murder charges were dropped after Stephanie’s blood was found on a transient’s sweat shirt as the boys headed to trial in 1999. The transient, Richard Tuite, was convicted of manslaughter in the slaying last year and is in prison.

After the charges against the three boys were dropped, their families sued police officers, prosecutors, the government agencies that employed them and the makers of the machine.

U.S. District Judge John S. Rhoades dismissed the majority of the case; attorneys for the families said they will appeal his rulings.

The settlement means there will be no trial for the National Institute for Truth Verification, makers of the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer. Rhoades had ordered a trial six weeks ago.

Lawyers for both sides said they can’t spell out how much the company will pay the families because of a confidentiality agreement.

“It’s not an admission of liability,” Kimberly Oberrecht, who represents the company, said of the settlement.

Crowe family lawyer Milton Silverman called the company’s machine “a fraud and a sham” in court papers and said its use coerced two of the three boys to wrongly tell police they took part in the stabbing death of Stephanie.

Rhoades said he didn’t believe he could approve keeping the settlement amount secret, but the lawyers said later they will arrange for the suit to be settled out of court.

The National Institute’s West Palm Beach, Fla., offices were closed yesterday evening. The company describes the $9,995 machine on its Web site as being “effective in all investigative situations.”

It lists 158 police agencies in California, including several in San Diego County, as clients and says the machine is more effective than a polygraph in determining whether someone is lying.

Michael Crowe and Treadway both denied involvement in Stephanie’s stabbing, but they said they began doubting themselves after an Oceanside police officer working with Escondido investigators told them the machine was highly accurate and indicated they were lying, lawyers said.

“Crowe Family Can Sue Makers of Lie-Detector Test”

North County Times reporter Teri Figueroa reports on a lawsuit involving the National Institute of Truth Verification, which markets the “Computer Voice Stress Analyzer”:

SAN DIEGO —- A federal judge ruled Monday that three teenagers initially accused of killing Stephanie Crowe can sue the makers of a voice analyzer test that police used to gauge whether the boys were lying when in the days following the child’s death.

The teens, now young adults, were charged with murder in the 1998 stabbing death of the 12-year-old Escondido girl. The three were jailed, in large part, based on statements two of them made to police during lengthy interrogations.

The families are suing the National Institute for Truth Verification, which makes the voice analyzer machine that police used in interrogating the boys.

The suit proclaims that the manufacturers are liable for the harm the boys suffered, and that the product led the boys to make false and misleading statements to police. Calling the machine a “fraud,” in recent court documents, Michael Crowe’s attorney argued that use of the machine caused Crowe to doubt his memory, and ultimately prompted the boy to tell police that he must have killed his sister, even though he could not remember doing so.

The makers of the product, which is called a Computer Voice Stress Analyzer, argued that use of the machine —- and the damning statements from the boys that followed —- represented only a small part of the reason the three boys were arrested for the slaying.

Charges against the boys were dropped a year later, after DNA tests revealed the slain girl’s blood on the clothing of transient Richard Tuite. Last year, a jury convicted Tuite in the girl’s death.

Long before Tuite’s arrest, the families of the three boys sued the Escondido police department and others, mostly over a slew of allegations that included violations of constitutional rights in the boys and the families were treated.

The boys’ attorneys argued that confessions —- later ruled by a court to have been coerced —- elicited from two of the boys were the main reason the teenagers were arrested.

U.S. District Judge John Rhoades said it’s up to a jury to decide just how much impact the machine had on the arrests.

The ruling means the six-year-old civil case may finally head to trial, although the case is now just a sliver of what it once was.

“It’s the first morsel of anything we’ve got to chew on,” Crowe family attorney Milt Silverman said after the hearing. Stephanie’s older brother Michael Crowe was among the three boys accused in her slaying. Buddies Joshua Treadway and Aaron Houser were also jailed charged with murder. Crowe was 14 at the time, Treadway and Houser were 15.

Most of the civil suit filed by the families of the three boys against the Escondido police department and others has been dismantled, with Rhoades tossing much of the case dealing with alleged constitutional violations.

The families argue that the arrests came primarily as a result of damning statements from Crowe and Treadway. All three of the boys took the “truth verification” tests during their questioning, and all three boys were told by police that they had failed the tests.

Silverman also argued that the makers of the product —- which he said has “no scientific validity whatsoever” —- misrepresented its accuracy to police.

At the end of two 10-hour interrogations, Treadway ultimately told police the three teenagers had followed through on a plan to kill Stephanie, 12 years old at the time of her death.

A videotape of the interrogations show Treadway focusing intently on the results of the “truth verification” test, which police told him he failed.

The makers of the voice stress analyzer, the National Institute for Truth Verification, had asked Rhoades to disallow the three families from suing them.

Attorneys for the makers of the product claimed the results of the tests did not play a part in the charging and jailing of the three boys. They pointed out that Rhoades, in earlier rulings, found that the police did have probable cause to arrest the boys.

Kim Oberrecht, attorney for the makers of the machine, told the judge that there are no facts to support the plaintiffs’ theory that the boys confessed because of the machine.

Oberrecht declined to comment after the hearing.

Last month, Rhoades ruled the Crowe family has no grounds to sue on most of its claims, including a claim that police violated their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure during the investigation into the girl’s death.

Also, the Crowe family cannot sue over the lengthy police interrogations of Michael Crowe, nor can the family sue over their claims that police wrongly arrested him for the slaying, Rhoades found.

Rhoades did agree to let part of the suit move forward, including allegations by Stephanie’s parents that Escondido police falsely imprisoned them by refusing to let them leave the police station. However, Escondido police are challenging that ruling in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rhoades’ findings last month came a year after he granted defense requests to toss out almost all of the claims the Houser and Treadway families raised.

“Case Underscores Pitfalls of Voice Analysis”

Staff writer Steven Mayer of the Bakersfield Californian reports. Excerpt:

When Escondido police questioned 14-year-old Michael Crowe in the days following the 1998 stabbing death of his 12-year-old sister, investigators used a Computer Voice Stress Analyzer during the interrogation.

The analyzer — a lie detector of sorts used by an estimated 1,300 police agencies in the United States, including some in Kern County — allegedly showed Michael was lying when he said he knew nothing about his sister’s murder.

“Science is in our favor. Technology is on our side,” detectives told the distraught teen-ager.

Although there was no physical evidence linking Michael to the crime, the boy eventually came to doubt his own memory. Over the course of several days of interrogation, police lied to him about finding his sister’s blood in his room. But lying to suspects — even about physical evidence — is not against the law.

With the help of the voice-stress analyzer and police disinformation regarding evidence, Michael eventually broke down and confessed.

More than a year later, a judge threw out Michael’s confession after his sister’s DNA matched blood found spattered on the clothes of a mentally ill transient who was seen near the Crowe residence the night of the killing.

The case has since shed new light on police interrogation techniques, and raised serious concerns about the widespread use by police of the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer.

“It’s voodoo science,” said Kyle Humphrey, a criminal defense attorney in Bakersfield who also spent several years as a prosecutor in the Kern County District Attorney’s Office.

Humphrey said the devices increase the chance that police will get a false confession, especially from immature or uneducated people who may be fooled into believing the devices are infallible.

“When you are told by police you failed the test, you are out of hope,” he said. “I will not allow any client to participate in interviews using a voice-stress analyzer.”

“Is This Lie Detector Telling the Truth?”

Christina Lewis reports for Court TV. Excerpt:

(Court TV) – Richard Allen Nicolas’ story seemed suspicious. An unknown gunman shot at his car, killing his 2-year-old daughter, Aja. Plus, police found that his muffler was cold, although Nicolas said he had been parked a short time.

But police had little hard evidence against Nicolas until he was hooked up to a computer voice stress analyzer (CVSA), a machine designed to detect lies by monitoring small vibrations in a person’s voice, and failed the test. He confessed.

Nicolas is now serving life in prison without parole for his daughter’s murder.

To hear some police officers tell it, the CVSA, a laptop device designed to detect lies by monitoring a person’s voice, is the greatest thing since handcuffs.

Imagine: no need to corner a suspect, attach multiple wires to him and have an expensive professional ask him a number of specific control questions. To use the voice stress analyzer, police just play a tape of the suspect talking, run it through the $10,000 laptop, and find out if he’s truthful. So easy to use, the CVSA can surreptitiously verify the honesty of prospective employees, ferret out fraudulent insurance claims, and resolve disputes when it’s one person’s word against another’s. Or so its creators say.

According to the National Institute for Truth Verification, the Palm Beach-based company that makes and markets the CVSA, you simply attach a microphone to the subject (or to the tape recorder or phone line), run the sounds into the device and get your results.

The device monitors the frequency of “micro-tremors,” vibrations in the voice undetectable to human ears, that increase when a person lies. While the subject is speaking, the CVSA measures and displays any changes in the vibrations.

For each voice pattern the machine shows a graph: a high peak denotes a true statement, while a jagged plateau indicates a lie.

Approximately 1,200 law enforcement agencies use the CVSA, and supporters say that its convenience and accuracy will lead more departments to let their polygraphs, the more well-known truth verifier, start collecting dust.

But not everyone is enthusiastic about it. In at least a few high-profile cases, the device has appeared to be wrong. And a number of lawyers, civilians and scientists say the CVSA has no scientific validity.

“It’s basically a Ouija board,” said Nevada lawyer Ian Christopherson, who successfully defended a juvenile probation officer against a rape charge prosecuted largely on the basis of a voice stress test.

Christopherson’s client, Vincent Sedgewick, took a CVSA test assuming it would clear him. Instead, it pointed to him as the rapist. When DNA testing did not match him to the sample recovered from the victim, however, police arrested him as an accessory based on the CVSA results. Although CVSA tests cannot be used as evidence in court, in some states to support an indictment.

Critics of the CVSA say that officers’ belief in the infallibility of the lie detector is one of its greatest dangers.

In the case of 14-year-old Michael Crowe, a California teen who confessed to his older sister’s murder, investigators administered a CVSA that allegedly showed Crowe was lying when he claimed to know nothing about his sister’s murder. Although there was no physical evidence linking Michael to the crime, investigators continued interrogating him after his voice stress test and got him to confess. A judge later through out his confession, and another man was charged with the crime.

“If you take a look at the Crowe case you have police relying upon this quackery directing their investigation in the wrong direction,” Christopherson said. “That’s why it’s incredible law enforcement allows this out there because people start believing that this device can actually be accurate.”