Normal Topic The Polygraph Interrogation of Christopher Lee Watts (And How He Could Have Beaten It) (Read 12154 times)
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The Polygraph Interrogation of Christopher Lee Watts (And How He Could Have Beaten It)
Dec 1st, 2018 at 8:45pm
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Tammy Lee Polygraphing Christopher Watts

On 15 August 2018, Colorado Bureau of Investigations (CBI) Agent Tammy Lee conducted a polygraph interrogation of Christopher Lee "Chris" Watts of Frederick, Colorado regarding the disappearance of his wife Shanann and daughters Bella and Celeste. She was joined in the post-test interrogation by FBI Special Agent Grahm Coder.

During a post-test interrogation in which Chris Watts' father was invited into the room to speak with him, Watts confessed to the killing of his wife and provided details of the crime that could be (and were) corroborated, included the location of the bodies of his wife and daughters. The entire interrogation was audio- and video-recorded, and over the past week the Weld County, Colorado District Attorney's office has released lightly-redacted copies of the video along with CBI Agent Tammy Lee's report (attached).

I've watched the entire video recording, which runs for over seven hours, and wow! Tammy Lee conducted a superb interrogation beginning with a lengthy pre-test phase in which she worked successfully to build rapport and get Watts talking to her, and continuing through the post-test phase, where she and Grahm Coder skillfully broke down Watts' defenses without any threats or even so much as raising their voices.

During the pre-test phase, Lee asked Watts whether he had researched the polygraph. He said he hadn't. But if Watts had researched polygraphy, for example, by reading The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, he might have easily beaten the polygraph "test" that Lee administered. (Also, had he researched polygraphy, he might have made the wiser choice not to speak with investigators and to retain legal counsel, instead).

Lee administered a so-called directed-lie "control" question "test," a format wherein the person being interrogated is instructed to answer certain questions untruthfully. This technique makes it especially easy for the subject to identify the "control" questions, which is otherwise (in so-called probable-lie "control" question "tests") perhaps the most difficult part of employing polygraph countermeasures (methods for passing or beating a polygraph "test").

During the pre-test phase, Lee introduced the various question types in groups, as is standard practice. The relevant questions were:

Regarding Shanann's disappearance, do you intend to answer all the questions truthfully? (This is actually a sacrifice relevant question that was not scored.)

Did you physically cause Shanann's disappearance?

Are you lying about the last time you saw Shanann?

Do you know where Shanann is now?

Next, Lee introduced the directed-lie "control" questions, which she instructed Watts to falsely answer "no":

Before 2018, did you ever lose your temper with someone you cared about?

Before 2018, did you ever say anything out of anger to a loved one?

Before 2018, have you ever wanted to hurt someone to get even with them?

Finally, Lee introduced the irrelevant questions, which she called "known truth" questions:

Is your first name Christopher?

Wer you born in 1985?

Are you now in the state of Colorado?

Are you now sitting down?

Are the lights on in this room?

Do you understand that I will only ask you the questions that we have discussed? (This is actually a so-called "symptomatic" question.)

If Watts had been familiar with polygraph procedure and countermeasures (discussed in Chapter 3 & 4 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector) he might have covertly augmented his reactions to the directed-lie questions, for example, by solving math problems in his head, or biting the side of his tongue, and thereby beaten the polygraph. Had Watts beaten the polygraph, it might have resulted in misdirection of the investigation to the extent that investigators actually believe in polygraphy, which is scientifically baseless.

In any event, Lee scored Watts' charts as "deception indicated" and proceeded with a "post-test" interrogation, during which Watts at first insisted he had not lied when confronted with the news that he had not passed the polygraph. But Watts' confidence slipped when FBI Special Agent Coder revealed that he knew that Watts had been having an extramarital affair with Nichol "Nikki" Kessinger, a fact that Watts had been concealing from investigators. Coder used a minimization technique of suggesting that maybe Watts' wife had done something to their children, and he did something to her because of that. Watts grasped at that straw of hope, admitting that he killed Shanann because she had (he alleged) strangled the children.

Watts pled guilty to the murders of his wife and children to avoid the death penalty and on 19 November 2018 was sentenced to life in prison.

Congratulations are due to Lee and Coder, who conducted an outstanding interrogation. Their example shows that coercive interrogation techniques are not necessary to obtain independently verifiable confessions to even the most serious of crimes, and that recording of interrogations is no hindrance, either. Indeed, the recordings strengthen the evidence of the confession they obtained. (Compare with the case of FBI Special Agent Jennifer Sullivan's unrecorded polygraph interrogation of Jamaico Tennison.)

Video of the pre-test and in-test phases of the polygraph interrogation are available here:

And video of the post-test phase is available here:

CBI Agent Tammy Lee's polygraph report is attached below.
« Last Edit: Dec 1st, 2018 at 9:07pm by George W. Maschke »  

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The Polygraph Interrogation of Christopher Lee Watts (And How He Could Have Beaten It)

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