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.