Saturday, July 14, 2001

Condit Passes Lie Detector Test? [my stress, my question -- EC]

Anything a little suspicious? No, I don't mean with the story itself -- Am I echoing the Drudge Report? Actually, if you check my blogs, I've been on this story a long time -- and I live in the same neighborhood where Chandra Levy, Joyce Chiang and other victims whose assaults may or may not be related to this case.

I even learned from the staff here that Joyce and her brother Roger lived in my building at one time. Joyce was last seen just a block away from my favorite hangout, Kramerbooks & afterwords, A Café . If I squint a little outside my front door, I can see the bridge that crosses into Georgetown around 22nd & P Streets, NW, not that far from where passersby found Christine Mirzayan’s body in the Summer of 1998 around the 3600 block of Canal Road NW where she apparently died from blows to the head and was cast down a hill covered with ivy, high grasses, shrubs and little trees.

Police don't believe there are any connections between these crimes -- at least that's what they're saying to the press. Who knows what they might or might not disclose in the interests of their own investigative options? Anyway, I don't know whether it's a consolation to feel that this isn't the work of a serial killer. It could be good for Chandra Levy -- if she turns up alive somewhere. On the other hand, it is of little comfort to me that several people may be responsible for any harm to so many respectable young ladies who have such promising futures. If one has to ask, "Who could do such a thing?" doesn't one have to ask also whether it is a whole band of culprits committing crimes with impunity while nobody sees any of their activities? It may be news for a lot of people, but for me it's a neighborhood issue.

Much is made of this lie-detector test as a means of collecting evidence: I don't know how far you could go with such results. Going to an independent examiner, though, is too much like a pre-emptive strike. It is the summary behavior of Condit that looks suspicious and not any particular individual acts.

As to accepting the independent examiner, I have to side with the Police -- it means nothing. There are no controls, nobody really knows how it was conducted -- repetition over a series of trials is very important in order to get accurate results -- and I don't know about anyone else, but I haven't heard how many [paper] tapes were run, how or whether they were compared or the exact duration of the examination. It serves one well who wishes to evade, but it doesn't serve the process of accumulating evidence at all. For it to mean anything at all, it shoud be run by the central authoritative source that holds the evidentiary repository.

There is another side to this issue: Nobody really passes a lie detector test -- we don't really have "lie detectors" -- we have polygraphs. It is a polygraph because it graphs a number of physical responses, like pulse, blood pressure, skin galvanometry, thoracic and abdominal respiration. In a videotaped session -- which could also turn up procedural flaws -- one might also be able to detect pupillary dilation. This is a good indication of how people feel about what they are saying, but it doesn't really indicate whether they are lying. It is understandable how somebody might fear such a "test." One has to think, I've been so tired lately -- what if I yawn periodically? Will they make something of that? It is possible to be disturbed by the examiner's tone. One imagines the examiner being silent for a while and then speaking suddenly (one might imagine a policeman shouting during the test) -- what kind of response does surprise show? What if there is guilt or remorse about a parallel issue not directly involved in the crime? What if you didn't really do anything, but you feel a sense of responsibility. In Condit's case, supposing he weren't involved in her disappearance, he should wonder whether he could have helped find Chandra if he had been more forthcoming earlier in the investigation.

To someone reading the newspaper, reasons and motivations can be rather vague. To somebody who has never had legal counsel available, it isn't as evident why many public personalities react the way they do. First of all, having an attorney can be a little like having a gun -- if you feel threatened, even for an instant -- you are apt to call on any means at your disposal to remove the threat. Once you retain an attorney, for whatever reason, even curiosity leads you to call to find out about possibilities.

Dentists, physicians and attorneys are seldom alone at cocktail parties -- even the potential for free professional advice will draw a crowd. It may seem that I'm making light of this issue, but I'm not. Everybody feels slighted at one time or another, and many times when it happens, the injured party would like to be able to spend an hour with an attorney just to ask questions to determine whether to get a lawyer. Your lawyer's first interest isn't whether you look guilty when you act in your own interest, it's how you might be defended, how you might be positioned, what you can prove and what the prosecution might be able to establish. Your attorney wants to know "whether you did it," and will probably ask -- and if you deny any culpability -- the counselor may not believe you.

The knowledge or assumption of guilt will determine the strategy of the defense: It is also difficult for the layperson to understand the motivations of a lawyer. Would you like to go into a trial aggressively defending someone and emerge with egg on your face? What would that do for your client? What would that do for your career? It is the nature of this relationship that guides both the behavior of the barrister and the customer.

If you've ever heard a physician say, "This is not a good sign," then you probably have a pretty good idea what it feels like for your legal representation to say, "We have to be very careful here,very careful." Unfortunately, that's the point at which most of us start listening.

In another twist, The Reliable Source with Lloyd Grove and Barbara Martinez, Grove cites in his article Iron Man and Marshmallow Man? in a subheading called THIS JUST IN . . . (washingtonpost.com)

Appearing on this weekend's installment of the PBS show "This Is America With Dennis Wholey," [Marlin] Fitzwater says about Rep. Gary Condit's public behavior: "If he was involved in any way, then he did the right thing for himself. If he is innocent, then he's done all the wrong things." Fitzwater elaborates: "I think he has some involvement. . . . Maybe peripheral, maybe even unintentional, but I think he is a key at some point."

I argue alternating sides of this story, but emphasis has to be placed on the above quote: This is roughly what I was going to say, anyway. Another way to put it is that Condit's whole suite of behavior suggests that he had some involvement. While it is hard to treat the Enquirer story as credible, there is a series of events that might suggest that Levy was pregnant -- she calls her Aunt with "good news." Two options would occur to me in a situation such as hers (1) She got a job, or (2) She was going to have a baby. I entertained another thought, too, which was that while she was so optimistically hoping and believing that just the right opportunity would come along for her (to stay here and develop her career or whatever her specific plans were), someone with bad intentions and what she wanted to hear used this edge to take advantage of her. While Condit's behavior is indeed suspect -- especially after prescribing that Clinton take his medicine without flinching -- there are too many other plausible scenarios that fit the situation at least as well as his involvement.

Reuters calls the story, in a feed picked up by Yahoo! Lawyer Says Condit Passed Lie-Detector Test. This adds some perspective to the description. Other headlines such as the story in the feed under Top Stories - Reuters is called Lawyer: Condit Passes Privately Administered Lie Detector Test. Yahoo! is doing a good job with Chandra's disappearance in more than just descriptive and honest reporting -- there is some thoroughness here, too -- a whole collection in its Full Coverage feature called In-depth coverage about Missing Intern Chandra Levy with a pointer to a Society & Culture Directory on Missing Persons at the bottom of the column.

Story: Condit Passes Lie Detector Test
Credit Washington Post

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