A nationally recognized expert in police interrogations and false confessions testified yesterday for former Carroll County schools Superintendent William H. Hyde, criticizing investigators' questioning of him last August and characterizing the session as "one of the most intense failed interrogations I've ever seen."
"All of the elements I discussed [as flaws] are present in this interrogation with the exception that there is no admission and there is no confession," Richard J. Ofshe, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, testified yesterday - the sixth day in Hyde's trial in Carroll County Circuit Court.
Although Hyde wrote during the interrogation a letter of apology to the elementary school-age girl he is accused of raping and sexually abusing, the former schools chief maintains that he offered the correspondence only because investigators told him the girl needed it to heal and not because he had abused her.
Hyde, 62, left the Carroll school system in August 2000 to take a job with a small Montana school system. He returned to Carroll County for a 2 1/2 -week visit last summer and is charged with abusing the child at her family's home during that time.
The Sun is not disclosing many details from the case to protect the girl's identity.
During about 4 1/2 hours of testimony yesterday, Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. also heard from the state police sergeant who arrested Hyde at the Westminster barracks and a state police polygraph examiner who tested and questioned him in the hours before his arrest. Both discussed Hyde's demeanor and statements while being questioned.
Ofshe and William R. Ecker, a defense character witness and former county teacher and administrator who served seven years as Caroline County school superintendent, were allowed to testify out of order yesterday to accommodate their schedules.
Deputy State's Attorney Tracy A. Gilmore said she might call one witness this morning before the prosecution rests its case.
Defense lawyer Kathi Hill said she expects the trial to wrap up tomorrow. Because Hyde waived his right to a jury trial, Burns is hearing the case and will hand down a verdict. If convicted of the rape charge, Hyde could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
In detailed and sometimes technical testimony, Ofshe summarized his years of research into "techniques of influence," including his studies of police interrogations. He described the goals of interrogations as getting suspects who had denied involvement in a crime to change their position and then collecting a detailed confession that can be compared to physical evidence and witness accounts in the case. And he detailed acceptable and improper methods of psychological interrogations, which he characterized as the most frequently used method of questioning suspects.
Ofshe criticized the tactics used by investigators who questioned Hyde as "techniques that are regarded as too powerful, techniques that are regarded as illegitimate and techniques that are regarded as capable of coercing a false confession."
He said the interrogation began Aug. 7 last year, the afternoon before Hyde was arrested, when police gave the mother of the alleged victim a tiny recorder to wear under her shirt and coached her on how to confront Hyde about the alleged abuse.
Asked if Hyde's reaction to the accusations was significant, Ofshe said, "His 17 denials of ever having done anything inappropriate to [the girl] were there. They were not equivocated in any way. He was accused of doing something, and he denied it over and over and over again."
The interrogation continued, Ofshe testified, over breakfast the next morning when Hyde met with Ruth Ann Arty, whom he knew from his years as a school administrator and who, unbeknownst to Hyde, was leading the investigation.
The process accelerated, Ofshe testified, when Hyde followed Arty to the Westminster state police barracks to take a lie detector test, which the professor called "a pseudo-scientific device," and submitted to the subsequent interrogation, during which Hyde was "pressured" to write to the girl. Ofshe called it "the letter trap."
Asked about investigators' comments regarding the absurdity of Hyde saying he did not remember abusing the girl, Ofshe said, "It is ridiculous not to remember. He's not saying he doesn't remember. What he is saying is, 'I don't have a memory of it.'"
Ofshe similarly criticized investigators' methods of questioning the girl, saying their interviews with her more resembled interrogations and contained many of the same coercive flaws as their interactions with Hyde.