My interview with Dr. Doriana Chialant about forensic neuropsychology

Dr. Doriana Chialant

Dr. Doriana Chialant is a Forensic Neuropsychologist with 20 years of practice in this field. She is currently a Clinical Associate in Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and a member of the American Psychological Association, Division 40 (Neuropsychology), the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society, the Boston Neurology and Psychiatry Association, the Associazione Alunni, Ricercatori e Professori della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, and the National Register of Psychology.  

Dr. Chialant, what exactly is forensic neuropsychology?

Forensic neuropsychology focuses on where a person accused of a specific crime behaved the way he or she did as a result of assessable and measurable brain damage.

The field is a relatively new and rapidly evolving subspecialty of clinical neuropsychology the scientific study of human behavior as it relates to normal and abnormal functioning of the central nervous system but applies these principles and practices to legal decision- making. Such information is key in deciding a central forensic question: not just whether a patient has a specific dysfunction, but whether that dysfunction is directly related to the legal issue at hand. Neuropsychologists use methods that have been scientifically validated through theoretical models and statistical standardization, and can distinguish various brain conditions from each other as well as from normal variation. For example, the methods must be able to determine whether dysfunction is the result of a neurological condition or a non- neurological (psychiatric or psychological/environmental) or factitious disorder. In addition, the methods must be able to establish a relationship between a dysfunction and its resulting behavioral manifestations and, finally, a correlation between such dysfunctional behaviors and the behaviors under consideration in a court of law.

Neuropsychology is a young sub-discipline of the field of neurology.

It was spawned by the practices of behavioral neurologists and neuropsychiatrists from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, and was associated with significant advances in the identification of conditions such as the aphasias (Broca, Wernicke), the agnosias (Lissauer), the apraxias (Liepmann), and the alexias (Déjerine)—research that was bolstered by autopsy- confirmed anatomical correlations. Only in 1962, with Luria’s publication of his seminal work—Higher Cortical Functions in Man—did the field of neuropsychology more formally come into existence. Luria, a Russian neurologist, developed an original battery of neuropsychological tests as part of his clinical work with brain- injured victims of World War II.

From these roots, the study of brain-behavior relationships—the hallmark of neuropsychology—was initially based on patterns of impaired and preserved cognitive functioning and behaviors in individuals with focal brain damage, often caused by injury (the so-called classical lesion-based approach).

More recently, the field expanded to address abnormal cognition and behavior in terms of dysfunctional processing of information, thus capturing dysfunctions in psychiatric disorders.

In the forensic setting, neuropsychology was first involved in civil litigation, where head trauma is often an issue (typically in motor vehicle accidents). In the early 1990s, criminal courts became aware of the unique contribution that neuropsychological assessments can make when central nervous system (CNS) pathology is considered in criminal proceedings. Neuropsychologists can contribute their understanding of neuroanatomy, neuropathology, and objective functional assessment to address specific questions of the court.

Neuropsychology has made substantial contributions to criminal proceedings in the detection of feigned or exaggerated cognitive deficits associated with secondary gains (e.g. being awarded larger sums of money or getting out of jail). Its contribution also helped educate courts about how cognitive difficulties present after particular injuries or illnesses. Today, courts are beginning to ask evaluators specific questions about the effect of amnesia and the possibility of feigning memory loss or general intellectual compromise.

When deprivation of liberty is at stake—as is typically the case in criminal proceedings—due process requires that the defendant be able to understand the process to a reasonable degree and be able to assist counsel in his or her own defense. Meeting this standard, which is known as competency to stand trial, strongly implies certain cognitive capacities. With few exceptions, cognition forms the basis of most mental health criminal standards. In court, common questions not only address a defendant’s competency to participate in legal proceedings, but also his or her competency to waive the right to an attorney, to plead guilty, or to waive an appeal.

Beyond questions of competency, issues of legal sanity or criminal responsibility arise as attorneys, judges, and juries grapple with how much a defendant’s brain pathology contributed to the criminal behavior. Related to sanity is the issue of diminished capacity, in which a defendant’s neuropathology may not be exculpatory, but may have contributed to the criminal behavior. Courts often take such factors into account when considering sentencing options.

What kind of professional training is required to enter this field?

Practitioners of forensic neuropsychology are trained as clinical neuropsychologists. Subsequently, they specialize in the forensic application of their knowledge and skills. Because the field of forensic neuropsychology is new, there were until recently no formal training programs, licensure requirements, or professional organizations devoted specifically to the specialty. Even today, there are very few textbooks or journals dedicated to the field.

Moreover, there is no formal process for qualifying for the title of “forensic neuropsychologist.” Rather, the title is typically claimed, in most states, by a practitioner who is certified as a licensed psychologist and who possesses the additional training and experience necessary to qualify as a neuropsychologist. At a minimum, one’s training, background, and knowledge must meet the requirements for licensure in one’s state and the ethical guidelines for practice of the American Psychological Association. The National Academy of Neuropsychology has proposed a specific definition of a clinical neuropsychologist. A forensic neuropsychologist will further have training and experience in the legal arena—although, to date, the nature and type of this education has not been specified.

The field of forensic neuropsychology has grown significantly over the past 20 years.

Among clinical neuropsychologists, referrals from attorneys are roughly equal in number to referrals from neurosurgeons, psychologists, general physicians, and rehabilitation specialists; only neurology and psychiatry are more important referral sources than attorneys. Other evidence for the central role of forensic neuropsychology is the increasing number of presentations on this topic at national meetings, as well as increasing numbers of peer- reviewed publications. Recently, the American Board of Professional Neuropsychology (ABPN) added a subspecialty in forensic neuropsychology to its certifying process. Forensic Neuropsychology’s growth reflects the growth of clinical neuropsychology, which, over the past 40 years, has firmly established principles underlying the relationship between brain and behavior, as well as valid and reliable methods for measuring such relationships.

What does a forensic neuropsychologist do?

While a forensic neuropsychological evaluation is essentially the same as a clinical neuropsychological evaluation, the goal is quite different. Clinically, the evaluation is structured to reach a diagnosis in order to inform treatment and improve the patient’s quality of life. But forensically, the goal is to reach a diagnosis in order to determine whether and how the client’s dysfunction matches the observed behaviors that led to criminal charges. Here, the neuropsychologist’s relationship with the client is not that of doctor-patient, but rather that of an expert witness. Indeed, the neuropsychologist’s findings may or may not be useful in the client’s defense. Once a forensic neuropsychological report is completed, its findings become part of the legal process, regardless of whether they can be used in the client’s defense. The neuropsychologist, while paid to perform an evaluation, is not asked to offer a specific opinion; rather, he or she renders a scientifically-based opinion which is above parties. As an expert witness, the neuropsychologist may be called to testify for opposing counsel, or his or her findings may come to be used by opposing counsel in their prosecution of the defendant.
In a typical forensic neuropsychological evaluation, the practitioner is contacted by a lawyer on the case. At this point, the pivotal legal question is reviewed and it is determined whether the neuropsychologist’s expertise is a good match for the question under consideration. Prior to meeting with the litigant (in civil cases) or the defendant (in criminal cases), the neuropsychologist reviews available background records. These may include records pertaining to the developmental, educational, occupational, medical, psychiatric, and legal history of the client. The neuropsychologist then meets with the client to perform an extensive assessment. In this meeting, the neuropsychologist reviews the process of the evaluation and the standards and limits of confidentiality. The goal is to make sure that the client understands the nature of the neuropsychologist relationship as an expert witness, and that the client is participating freely in the evaluation.

The evaluation includes a relatively lengthy clinical interview (typically a couple of hours), during which information about the individual is gathered and often checked for consistency with information provided in background records (this offers the opportunity to assess whether the client is able or willing to provide reliable information, or to correct record inaccuracies). The interview further gathers information about the client’s mental status at the time of the evaluation. (Is there significant anxiety, depression, or cognitive confusion or clouding? How is the client feeling on the day of the evaluation? Does the client know where he/she is or is otherwise oriented to the present circumstances?) The evaluation also includes the client’s perspective on his/her history of psychological, psychiatric, physical/medical, and cognitive/learning problems.

At this point, the neuropsychologist begins to apply numerous neuropsychological tests, which measure a broad variety of cognitive functions. These tests assess attention and concentration, learning and memory for both language-based and visually-based information, language skills, visual-spatial and constructional skills. Also assessed are so-called higher executive functions: the capacity to multitask, to learn from feedback, to act flexibly in response to changes in the environment or task demands, to extrapolate abstract patterns from available data, to solve problems that require abstract reasoning, and to plan and consistently execute a plan of action. The client’s level of effort and motivation to respond in a straightforward way are also measured, to determine whether there is a conscious or unconscious bias in the way the client is responding to questions and tests. Often, measures of emotional, mood and personality functioning are also administered, to determine how such factors interact with the cognitive pattern of strengths and weaknesses of each individual and contribute to answering the forensic question at hand.

The administration of such a battery of neuropsychological tests may take from 5-7 hours to several days to complete. Upon completion of this lengthy and detailed process, all the data collected is analyzed using available standardized scoring systems. It is then compared with relevant statistical samples and correlated with the client’s specific developmental, educational/occupational, and medical/psychiatric history to reach a diagnostic impression. At the end of this process, the neuropsychologist writes a report which presents all the data collected and processes applied, as well as a summary of all the documents reviewed and information gathered from the client (and at times from collateral sources such as family members or co-workers).

The report offers the neuropsychologist’s interpretation of the findings, addressing the questions of 1) Is there measurable brain damage (or psychiatric disorder or both); 2) Are there well-established functional and behavioral manifestations of such damage or disorder; and 3) Do such well established manifestations correlate with the client’s observed behaviors during the evaluation as well as at the time of the alleged offense?

Dr. Chialant, what drew you to this field?

I have always enjoyed solving puzzles, and I was drawn to this field by the complexity of its questions. Fascinated by the workings of the brain, I studied neuroscience and worked in research with individuals with brain damage. In relating to these clients, I became more deeply aware of the terrible difficulties people face when struck by the onset of a neurological disorder. I was doing work on language deficits and was moved by individuals who had lost the capacity to communicate and struggled to interact with family members or otherwise with their environment. I found myself in a position where I could understand their deficits and help them communicate better. I developed a desire to become a clinician, and eventually became a licensed psychologist with a specialization in neuropsychology. I eventually had the opportunity to collaborate with a supervisor who did some work in forensic neuropsychology and I was immediately hooked. The complexity of the cases intrigued me, and finding a solution to the puzzle at hand kept me motivated.

Can you describe some of the most interesting or intriguing or surprising assignments that you have worked on? How did you handle them?

For me, the most common assignments have been to aid courts in sentencing. These cases typically involve robberies or violent assaults while the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and where there appears to be a history of significant developmental disorder or head trauma or other neurologic disorder. Most intriguing are often the murder cases. Most of these cases have had a certain degree of the unexpected, either in the sequence of events that led the person to act as he or she did, or in terms of something that touched me emotionally in ways I had not anticipated. Here are several cases that changed me a bit, both professionally and personally.

One is the case of a man who had undiagnosed—and therefore untreated—bipolar disorder. He had started using heavy drugs, which provoked his first full-blown manic episode. He was living with a girlfriend, and the relationship was quickly collapsing under the blows of his irritability and loss of temper for no apparent reason. One night, alone in the house, music blasting, he started throwing his furniture into the yard. He then started taking off his clothes. The neighbors yelled at him to stop, he yelled back louder. When the police were called, he took off in his car, in which he had a gun. He began shooting out of the window as he drove. He hit two young men who were sitting on a fence. He then threw away the gun, ran out of the car, and headed into backyards, stripping off whatever garments he still had on. The police caught up with him and made an arrest. One victim of the shooting suffered permanent severe damage, the other recovered relatively quickly from the wounds.
When I met the defendant in jail about two years after the events, two things became apparent early on in the evaluation. First, he clearly suffered from bipolar disorder—an opinion shared by the jail psychiatrist, who had started the man on medications prior to the evaluation. Second, the man was eager to tell his story. He talked about the events rather freely, as if he was experiencing them from a state of high emotion. He was quite eager to relate how he had succumbed to drug use and how his bipolar disorder had destroyed his life. He barely remembered the two men he had shot, and noted that though he had not inquired as to their health afterwards, he was relieved that neither had died. He knew that one of the men had suffered permanent bodily injuries, but felt that the victim was exaggerating his symptoms to see if he could get something out of it.
The interview reached emotional intensity when the defendant talked about his childhood and disclosed a history of sexual abuse. At that point, he became hesitant in his speech and pensive. He subsequently disclosed having molested his own daughter when she was about 14 years old (about 20 years earlier). But rather than express distress about his own wrongdoing, he talked about how clearly that act had stemmed from his own history of abuse. Unlike the recollection of his own abuse, he now talked from his head and not from his heart.
Throughout the interview, the man’s perspective remained anchored in his own point of view. He felt and expressed a sense of being a victim of his illness, and seemed to seek understanding and even appreciation for what he had gone through. I did not see any trace of remorse or even concern for what he had done to others. To top this off, once cognitive testing began, he became clearly involved with the quality of his performance. He enjoyed the challenge of the tests and wanted to excel. He had read about I.Q. measurements and other tests, and was sure he was smarter than anyone else I had ever tested. Not only did he ask whether he could have the results of his tests (which he could not) but he also wanted to know if I could write a letter in support of his application to MENSA.
This case took me by surprise because it was the first time I had to write on behalf of someone who, although a victim himself, had no compassion for the people he had hurt: his daughter and the two men. From a legal point of view, he had shot two people while in the throws of mania, and therefore faced proceedings for the charges in question. However when talking about his upbringing, he felt a need to unburden himself by confessing to having molested his daughter and showing no remorse or concern for either action. I did not want to help release this man back into society, but I had to. This was the first time I had to truly confront myself with what, at that time, felt like a question of moral integrity: How can I do the work I am ethically called to do while feeling such a struggle within?

Another case centered on a young man, just turned eighteen, who was the mildly mentally-retarded and psychiatrically-ill father of a newborn son. His history was difficult to establish because he was not able to provide a linear story or any significant biographical detail, and because there were no background records available. He had dropped out of school at a very young age, had been estranged from his family of origin for a long time, and had no history of employment or a permanent address. Mostly, he seemed to have lived on the streets.
Because of his circumstances, he had never been identified as mentally retarded, and the department of mental retardation was never involved. Likewise, his mental illness was never diagnosed and he never received any services or treatments. Somehow, the state’s department of social and family services had also failed to become involved, in spite of the man’s early history of running away from home and falling into drug use and small dealing. He had slipped from one crack to another.
The man continued on in his young life, dealing drugs and getting caught for it. At some point, he became involved with a young woman a few years older than he. They had unprotected sex and she became pregnant. He moved in with her. She quickly became fed up with him. He was no good in dealing and was not skilled at anything else, either. He totally depended on her, while she now had two children and a part-time, poorly-paying job. One day, she went to work and left the young man to babysit. Their son was just a few months old—a screaming machine. The young man closed the door to the child’s room, hoping to muffle the screeching. He turned up the volume on the TV. The child screamed louder. The young man started screaming himself, holding his head in between his hands. He finally ran into the baby’s room, grabbed the infant, and shook him up and down. The baby’s head hit the crib’s post, and the child finally became quiet. Believing the child was now asleep, the young man returned to his TV. A few hours later, the mother arrived home. She found the baby blue, cold, and stiff.
Meeting with this young man felt utterly “strange.” He had a slim, graceful build and seemed younger than his age—a child himself. He looked up at me as if I were a rescue line. In his mind, perhaps someone had finally come to take him home, perhaps there was going to be milk and cookies at the end of this story. His demeanor and physical features were at odds with the unwelcoming and sterile jail room, the metallic noises around us, the cold chairs. Above all, the young man’s features were at odds with the task at hand: preparing for his criminal trial. How does a child understand the enormity of his actions? What awareness did he have of his actions? Had he reached for the baby with the intention of quieting him or of killing him? Was he capable of well-formed intentions? Or had he acted in a knee-jerk fashion, not caring for the child but not intending harm either? Eventually, it became clear to me that he had little understanding of the consequences of his actions and had not acted with malice. In one single reactive gesture he had permanently harmed two children: his baby and himself.

A third case that I have returned to many times in my mind was that of a man who had allegedly raped a woman repeatedly over the course of one night and claimed to have no memory of the events. He said that he had been hit on the head several times while living on the streets, and claimed to have memory deficits. In this instance, I did not end up having to write on the man’s behalf, because he had “faked bad” on all measures of malingering, symptom exaggeration, and memory. In fact, he was the most obvious case of symptom creation that I have ever encountered in my forensic work. Here, the dilemma was of a totally different nature. I sat with the man for about seven hours in a small interview room, just big enough for a small table and two chairs. Unlike most other evaluations, safety measures required the door to the room to remain open. A guard sat at a far end of a large room with several inmates visiting with their attorneys. This was a high-security prison, and most inmates did not have the privilege of a separate room for visits. The defendant and I already stood out for having been granted a separate space: he, after all, needed to be able to concentrate and be removed from potential distractions. The jail had granted that special status, one which gave him comfort but gave me discomfort.

Several factors made the situation uncomfortable. First of all, although I sat closer to the open door, I was separated from him only by a small round table. Our knees almost touched. His feet did touch mine on several occasions, as he adjusted his posture on the chair throughout the day. Unlike other inmates’ visitors, I spent several hours with him, which is an extraordinary amount of attention for men like him, and I was the only woman in that setting throughout the day. None of these conditions was particularly different from those in my other evaluations. What made the situation different was the nature of his crime, the fact that I was a woman, and the demeanor of this man throughout the day. From the very beginning, this man seemed to be gloating. I felt that he was pleasantly surprised to find out that his defense attorney had retained a woman.

It became clear during the evaluation that he held a deep-rooted belief that women are inferior or can be easily overpowered—and he did not even try to hide this belief. It seemed clear to me that he thought he could outsmart me. He approached the testing situation with great arrogance: He did not follow my directions or learn from feedback (which would have helped him perform in more reasonable ways on the tests, and potentially result in a valid and therefore potentially useful protocol), and he tended to talk over me and act as if he was in charge. He never appeared to recognize my authority as an evaluator and there was never any deference in his attitude. He was so self-assured that he was convinced he would win his case. He also spoke of the woman that had been raped as a liar and a person of little worth. He seemed to draw malignant pleasure from the misfortune of this woman.

Although this man did not outsmart me or the tests, did not win his case, and had little to gloat about in the end, he was able to make me intensely uncomfortable throughout the evaluation and afterwards. I left the jail as if running away from peril. I felt dirty and exposed, and I felt as if I had colluded with him in a sordid crime. What had happened that day? At the time, I realized that I had been overwhelmed by the visit, that I felt unsettled and was mad at myself for having let this happen. I rationalized it with the fact that he was a rapist, that he was disrespectful, and that he acted with arrogance in spite of the fact that he was in jail and not likely to get out. But these rationalizations merely felt like a rephrasing of what was clear intellectually: that this was a rape case, that the man’s claim of total amnesia during the time of his actions was likely bogus, and that such a black-and-white self-defense posture could only be held with arrogance.
What I did not realize was the impact of one person’s malignant energy on another. In retrospect, I now see clearly that during the evaluation, as in any close exchange between two individuals, at least two different conversations were taking place simultaneously. One was the pragmatic and mind-driven conversation of interviewing, test administration, response patterns, etc. The other was the emotional and energetic dialogue. I felt as if I had been assaulted and invaded by this man. I felt as if I had tried to hold myself together and keep from running out of the room. Looking back, I see that I had failed to realize and acknowledge and therefore prepare for this kind of frightening type of nonverbal communication. Put simply, I had left myself exposed to this man’s predatorial energy.

A fourth case what that of a man in his 90s, who had been married to his wife for more than 60 years. They had lived harmoniously together, raised their children together, and had worked as tailors together for over 40 years. This gentleman had been affected by diabetes most of his life and eventually succumbed to dementia. During his illness, he had become unreliable about taking his diabetes medications and had begun experiencing extreme sugar levels, accompanied by delirium. At the time, he still lived with his wife, who was very dependent on him. One day while the couple was in the kitchen he took a large kitchen knife and stabbed his wife nine times, and himself three times. Both were rushed to the emergency room, barely alive. Both survived and physically recovered, although his wife was left with permanent damage to a lung. While in the hospital, the man kept calling his wife’s name, wanting her next to him. He was delirious and confused, and his speech poorly barely intelligible Once medically stable, he was transferred to a jail. He was the oldest inmate in the facility and the most infirm. The prosecution maintained that the defendant was pretending not to remember, the defense that he was demented and not responsible for his action. Complicating the case was the fact that the couple was Italian and neither spoke much English. Attempts at reconstructing the events had resulted in more confusion.

This is when I came into the picture. Prior to meeting the man, I was carefully warned that he was irritable and belligerent and had a number of times been placed in restraint on his geriatric chair. Upon meeting him, it was immediately clear that I was in the presence of a demented man who was struggling with missing his wife, with having no understanding of where he was and why, and with feeling profoundly isolated in his inability to communicate with anyone around him. He spoke in his Italian dialect, his speech fragmented and disorganized by his dementia and confusion. He would become frustrated at the failure of people around him to respond to him, and would grow more and more demanding of attention, care, food, a blanket. He sobbed inconsolably about the absence of his wife. Having lost the cognitive capacity to reason through the bleak facts of his existence, he was prey to despair. She was not there, and that’s all he knew. She was not there this instant and then the next and the next. I witnessed an agony that could not be stopped. As I worked with him, it became clear that prior to these events, he had become obsessed with the idea of dying and abandoning his wife, whom he had cared for his whole life. He was worried she could not take care of herself. Who would, then, if he could not? It seemed to me that he had suddenly resolved to kill her and himself to avoid the inevitable abandonment. He was able to offer fragments of the events, but mostly expressed his worry about his wife. He recalled seeing blood and that she was taken away. He could not make sense of her absence.

I spent eight hours with this man. What I most strongly recall is the profound sense of protectiveness I experienced toward him. I wanted to stanch his emotional gushing, and if that could not be done—and it could not—I wanted to at least ensure that he received a blanket when he felt cold, a holding hand when he wobbled on his feet, and that he could be eased a bit out of his isolation. Most of all, I wished he could be placed in a residence other than a jail. He belonged in a nursing home—but none existed that could take on the responsibility of caring for someone with his history. Personally, I did not experience an ounce of aggression in this man. I felt his pain and his vulnerability. I witnessed his physical frailty and mental decay.

Upon meeting me he had looked at me suspiciously. After a few hours sitting together, during which our conversation consisted of a few questions asked repeatedly by me in the hope of eliciting a consistent answer, and of small gestures of kindness on my part, such as ensuring that he was sitting comfortably or calling someone to assist him with a blanket or a snack, I had become his whole world. This is often the case with the limited attention span of dementia, where the present is the only temporal dimension. When the lunch break arrived, he became afraid of being separated, and I agreed to walk him to the lunchroom. I held his hand under my arm as we walked and talked to him as I would have to a dear friend or sick child. I left him to his lunch once the distraction in the room had diverted his attention away from me. When I met him again after lunch, he had no recollection of who I was. The initial look of suspicion returned to his face.

I wrote a strong evaluation on his behalf. Although he won the case and was found not guilty by reason of insanity, the verdict did not benefit him none, as there was no place for him to go. The last I heard of him, a bit more than a year later, he was still where I had found him—likely in the same distress, or perhaps eased by the relenting progression of his illness into some deeper oblivion.

How were you able to make a difference in people’s lives or in the carrying out of justice?

This is a tough question to answer because often, even when justice feels done in a case, this does not necessarily translate into an improvement in the circumstances of the client. As a clinician, this is at times hard to accept. The most obvious way in which my work has made a difference in the lives of the people I have worked with is in terms of judicial sentences. My evaluations may lead to a reduction in years of prison, a placement in a different setting (a hospital-jail rather than a regular jail), or even a dismissal of charges on the basis of being “not guilty by reason of mental deficit or defect.”

The most interesting cases are the latter. The lay person often believes that “not guilty” means a perpetrator goes home free. This is usually not the case. More often, the individual is sent to a treatment facility and is only sent “home free” once treated. The duration of this treatment is often undetermined. For example, someone with schizophrenia may never be treated sufficiently to return home. Someone who suffered a significant stroke that cause extensive brain damage to the areas that control behavior, or someone who suffers from a type of dementia that has predominantly behavioral manifestations, may never go home. These individuals will remain in treatment facilities for the rest of their lives. Rehabilitation programs are scarce and not as state-of-the-art as one may hope. However, often the fact that an individual’s behavior, as atrocious as it may be, has come to be viewed as the result of their brain damage or defect rather than as the outcome of a personal choice, is in itself a great relief to many perpetrators and their families. The stigma is removed and defendants and their families can regain a deeper sense of integration in their lives, even amidst changed circumstances.
For example, I have had cases of individuals who, late in their lives, began to exhibit changes in personality and behaviors, which eventually resulted in them killing a family member. As a result of my work, they were properly diagnosed with specific types of dementia that initially manifest with dramatic changes in personality and behaviors. While the perpetrators themselves may or may not fully understand what the diagnosis means (because their cognition is also already impaired), their family members are profoundly grateful and have an easier time coming to terms with the events and retaining a reasonable degree of relationship with the perpetrator.

Another example is that of someone who has committed a crime because he or she was in the throes of a first episode of severe mental illness. This often occurs in relatively young individuals who have their first manic break associated with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, or their first psychotic break associated with undiagnosed schizophrenia. In these cases, once the individual is diagnosed, pharmacological treatment can begin, which can significantly restore a person’s cognitive and behavioral capacity. These individuals may indeed return home free, as long as they remain compliant with medical treatments.

Sometimes the outcomes are more bitter than sweet. One may diagnose an individual and obtain an acquittal, but the individual may no longer be eligible for appropriate treatments. For example, individuals who are diagnosed with mental retardation late in life may not be eligible for state programs or be able to benefit from such programs. While these individuals may be discharged, they have nowhere to go. They end up back on the streets and are bound to engage again in the only behaviors they know—such as small robberies or low-level drug dealing. They quickly become prey again to manipulative figures in their lives who “help” them return to such unlawful practices. Similarly, women may return to abusive relationships with a pimp or with “boyfriends,” whom they perceive as protective figures, and who often are the only people they have in their lives.

What to do in these cases? This is where a practitioner has to believe in the judicial process, maintain a professional attitude, and see the legal case through its course, even though the outcome yields no improvement in the perpetrator’s life. Ironically, in these cases, a jail stay may be a better outcome, because the individual would have had a roof over his or her head and would not have suffered further abuse on the streets. The problem is that regular jails are not suited for people which such degrees of disability. They become vulnerable to manipulative or abusive figures in the jails are well, and may end up becoming victims of sexual or physical violence. What is the answer? In my opinion, as a society, we need to create specialized housing for such damaged individuals, where they can be monitored and treated and maintained safely.

Dr. Chialant, how would you like to see the role of forensic neuropsychology expanded?

In an ideal world, the role of the expert witness in general, and that of the forensic neuropsychologist in particular, would become more educational to the courts and less “pro parte.” Ideally, a panel of forensic experts would meet to discuss their findings and points of view in order to reach an understanding of what happened and why. This would represent a collaborative approach to reaching a shared “truth” about the case rather than an adversarial process of litigation. The common conclusions of the panel would then be shared with the judge and the jury so that they could make an informed decision about guilt and associated sentences.
In the meantime, a more reachable goal would be to consistently use neuropsychologist experts in legal proceedings. At the moment, whether a neuropsychologist expert is going to be called to participate in a case remains almost entirely in the hands of the attorneys on the case. Public defense attorneys are often overburdened and thus may pay insufficient attention to their clients’ presentation to detect the signs that should trigger a request for a neuropsychologist expert. Here, too, what is needed is an educational program for the courts that employs neuropsychologists and other types of experts to inform lawyers during their legal training, as well as an effort to make high-quality neuropsychological evaluations required in specific circumstances.
A change in the language of the courts, and more specifically in the laws, would also be beneficial. For example, today, we still say “not-guilty by reason of mental deficit or defect.” I would love to see the word “mental” replaced with the word “brain.” This would help sustain a cultural change wherein individuals who work in the courts become accustomed to thinking about perpetrators’ behaviors in terms of biology rather than of personal responsibility or personal choice—a Galilean shift, to be sure.

If people want to enter this unique field, what advice do you give them?

I advise people to find a supervisor who does this type of work and ask to assist in a few forensic cases. This is not a specialty suited for everyone. Jail settings can be harsh. The conditions of the testing day can be quite trying—once the evaluations has started, the neuropsychologist and the inmate alike cannot leave the room for any reason, lest the visit is deemed to be over. Typically, one is not allowed to use the bathroom for the seven- to-eight -hour duration of the visit. Often, no food is allowed in the evaluation room; in about half of the cases in which I participated, water was not allowed either. On occasions when one is called to testify in court, one has to ask oneself whether one can endure the harsh counter-questioning by opposing counsel, which quite often involves a strategic assault on the neuropsychologist’s ego and whether one can endure the stress of the situation. This sometimes involves a full day- in court; sometimes hours on the stand; sometimes lengthy rescheduling at the last minute. It may also entail changes in legal strategies that require more work or last- minute modifications and research, as well as questions that involve leading the expert to testify on topics that may or may not fall within his or her range of expertise.
Beyond the practical challenges of the work, one has to ask oneself whether the overall meaning of the role one is planning to take on—often involving being part of a defense team of individuals who have committed serious and gruesome crimes—is something one can reconcile with one’s personal ethics. One has to allow the concept of “justice for all” to seep deep into one’s bones. As a neuropsychologist, one has to allow the concept of “brain damage and behavioral relationship” to become second nature, so that one works without bias and maintaining a scientific approach. All this must be balanced with the capacity to relate in a human way with a client, so that true collaboration can be sustained during the evaluation process.
Female neuropsychologists must ask themselves whether they feel ready or able to work with primarily male offenders, and what type of offenders they feel they can honestly and without bias evaluate. Crimes involving sexual offenders and predators are themselves a subspecialty of the forensic neuropsychology subspecialty, and female practitioners may or may not choose to work in this domain. Crimes involving impulsive killers and serial killers are another subspecialty. Female neuropsychologists who want to specialize in working with women must ask themselves whether they can work with mothers who have killed their children or with women who have suffered profound abuse.
As one can see, this work requires deep-rooted centeredness and emotional stability. One must actively try this work in order to answer the question: “Am I ready?” If the answer is yes, it will prove to be a rewarding area of practice, which promises a continued degree of intellectual stimulation, professional growth, and personal discovery.

Is there anything else to add about the topic of forensic neuropsychology?

I would like to highlight two important points:

The first is how I have come to understand the work from an ethical point of view. What does it mean for me to assist in the defense of these individuals merely on the basis of scientific test findings and regardless of the “moral beauty” of the situation or events? How do I understand my professional role in the large scheme of things?
The cases I have discussed here are very diverse in their moral implications. Many readers will relatively easily feel a measure of compassion for the old Italian man and think that it was right for me to assist in his defense. Few will feel compassion for the bipolar man or for the baby killer and may wonder whether it was appropriate to assist in such types of defenses. Most may feel that I was lucky I did not have to participate in the defense of the rapist.

But what distinguishes these cases from each other? Certainly not the outcome of the perpetrators’ actions (someone dies or gets severely hurt), but rather what we believe the motivations were for the actions, or the intent with which they were performed, or whether or not guilt or remorse were experienced and expressed by the perpetrator. Often, we trace these boundaries with a moral compass steeped in a culture of judgment for people whom we perceive as somehow “different” from us. But if I can set aside the moral and legal aspects of these cases—the issues of judgment and the issue of how to deal with these individuals as a society—I can ask the following questions: What if the individuals, who were not able to feel or express remorse or compassion for their victims, simply suffer from a neurogenic deficit of compassion? What if their brains are wired differently or have suffered damage, so that they have diminished capacity to experience guilt and remorse? How is their illness different and less worthy of compassion than that of the old Italian man who nearly killed his beloved wife?
What is the difference between an individual who has lost his capacity for awareness of his actions (the Italian man) or has no capacity to distinguish between right and wrong (the mentally retarded 18-year-old) or the capacity to control ones behavior (the bipolar man) and the individual who has lost the capacity to feel for others and therefore experience remorse? More provocatively, what is the difference between someone born with a learning disability that affects the capacity to learn certain elements of language and someone born with a deficit of compassion which affects the capacity to feel for others and experience remorse? What if the latter individual has damage or miswiring in those areas of the brain that control the capacity to feel or express empathy and compassion?

My answer to these questions is that there is no difference. We should not think of individuals who, in the absence of a history of abuse, trauma, mental illness or neurological deficit, experience no guilt or remorse for their actions as “evil” or “bad.” Instead, they should be thought of as individuals who suffer from a developmental or acquired brain dysfunction. Their deficits are those of an illness and their nature is that of a human being. While their actions still call for societal intervention (whatever society chooses to do), we need not feel compelled to hold a judgment that blocks any chance of seeing these individuals as humans with a potential for change, for connection or reconnection with others, or even for connection with hidden parts of themselves.
My other point: What is the personal moral of these stories—and, for me, of this work? No matter where we are or for what purpose, when we are engaging with another there is always a two-way stream of emotions and energy.

Years ago, I wrote in reflection:

When I prepare for an evaluation in jail, I pack myself up, armed with tests, a laptop and a shield of professional clothing. When I enter a prison visiting contact room, I wear my intellectual curiosity, the kind a chess player may need. I enter expecting an outsmarting contest, which I intend to play with an upper hand. I hold awareness at all times of my role, sustaining a certain professional distance, and armed with knowledge drawn both from studies and direct clinical experience. I have tools and methods and strategies at my disposal, as well as a clear path to a goal, its steps precisely timed by my stopwatch. I control the situation by keeping the pace and a certain facial neutrality. I give instructions and I write down notes. I don’t usually shake hands, unless the inmate extends his hand first. I am untouchable. A pilot in his cockpit… I come into the room with an intention to search, methodically and skillfully, for the signs of intention, motivation, capacity and the interplay of emotion and cognition in my playmate. I am watchful, not vigilant, hoping for a letting down of the other person’s guard. During the interview, I search for the arising of the emotions in the facial expression, the tone of voice, the body movement, and only finally in the content of what is being said to me. This process is like a dance, a pas de deux. At strategic moments I open a little crack in my responsiveness, I then step back and hope for a coming forward of the other into this freshly created space. I watch this process as well.
In spite of it all, a certain intimacy occurs—it has to occur. In this space of great physical proximity and extended hours, my awareness of the affective energy in the room is at its sharpest. In this space, the dial is turned up, and I can hear and feel as if I had some special x-ray vision. I think any clinician has known moments like this. In this “expanded sphere” of awareness, I learn much about the inner emotional world of the other. If I am pulled to tears, I know there is sadness in the room. If I feel tension or anxiety, I know there is fear. The space becomes filled with this listening, which is as tangible as a touch or pressure. When this contact occurs, I somehow reach. For a moment, a quiet sharing occurs, a silent solidarity. There is a certain kind of honest nakedness in this.
As I mentioned before, the first time I had to truly confront myself with these questions of “energy” and “feel” rather than “thought” and “ethics” or “morality,” was during the case of the bipolar man who showed no concern for the severe emotional pain and physical harm his actions had caused in others, but had great “compassion” or concern only for himself. A brilliant writer, Gobodo-Madikizela Pumla (2003; A Human Being Died that Night; Mariner Books), offers insight into the “energetic” meaning of such a situation. She writes: “When violators of human rights allow themselves to be emotionally vulnerable, they are giving others a chance to encounter them as human beings.”
This man, beyond his arrogance and lack of remorse, was expressing a need to disclose and share his story, a need to unburden himself. He was clearly eager to have a witness to his own suffering. He was asking to be listened to, asking even for compassion. In other words, he was asking to be seen as a human being. And if he could feel like a human being, if he could share a human moment with another, what was the chance that he could eventually find a broader humanity within himself? Was the act of listening, the act of being present, a potential catalyst for change? I often ask myself this question, and I often tell myself, “I hope so.”
What was the message of the encounter with the rapist? He had succeeded in making short shrift of any sort of boundary between interviewer and subject, me and him. He had penetrated my defenses. I felt invaded, naked, angry. In paying him attention and sharing space with him, I had in ways come to be on his side—and he was fully aware of it. From that moment, I was infected with the memory of such intimacy, which felt like an acknowledgment of his evil.
Yet I myself was changed by that difficult encounter. It caused me to reflect on my own actions in ways I never had before. What does my energy do? What does the energy of another do to me? How does intention translate into energy? Is it possible to embrace human suffering as a mother embraces, physically or emotionally, her child, regardless of the child’s behavior, qualities, social approval, choices, or destiny? Is there a path towards this kind of capacious embrace? In letting this man penetrate my affective boundary, I had lost the opportunity to step back and embrace the situation fully, like a mother would. I had lost my chance to offer an opportunity for change.
Pumla may have put it best. “How much evidence is necessary for one to change perspective and for transformation in one’s life to result? Is knowledge enough to change a person’s heart? Is it sufficient simply to know that the beliefs on which one has based one’s behavior are wrong? Perhaps one doesn’t need more knowledge, one needs the resolve to use the knowledge that one has. Moving from reflection to engagement requires a new way of seeing the old—the kind of shift in perspective that information rarely yields but spiritual conviction sometimes brings.”

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Come risolvere un omicidio analizzando un’intervista

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Christopher Watts (Denver7)

La criminologa Ursula Franco spiega a Stylo24 com’è possibile, attraverso la Statement Analysis, riuscire ad individuare bugie e contraddizioni nel racconto di un sospettato

Stylo24, 24 agosto 2018

La criminologa Ursula Franco ha analizzato per Stylo24 le interviste rilasciate da Christopher Watts, il 33enne americano che ha confessato di aver sterminato la sua famiglia. Ursula Franco è allieva di Peter Hyatt, uno dei massimi esperti mondiali di Statement Analysis. La Statement Analysis è una tecnica scientifica d’analisi del linguaggio verbale (interrogatori, interviste, comunicati stampa, lettere anonime) ed è diffusamente utilizzata in America, Inghilterra e Israele nei casi giudiziari. In Italia, la Franco è una tra i pochi criminologi ad applicare questa tecnica nei casi giudiziari di cui si occupa, non senza ostacoli, gli ostacoli di chi si oppone al progresso delle scienze criminologiche o semplicemente di chi le sottovaluta a causa della propria impreparazione.

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Chris, Celeste, Bella and Shannan Watts

 Frederick, Colorado, USA: Christopher Watts, il 33enne originario dello stato americano dell’Oklahoma che lunedì 13 agosto aveva denunciato la scomparsa di sua moglie Shannan, in stato di gravidanza, e delle due figlie, Bella e Celeste, e che martedì 14 aveva rilasciato lunghe interviste alle tv locali, ha confessato di aver sterminato la sua famiglia e ha fornito agli investigatori le coordinate per rinvenire i corpi di sua moglie, 34 anni, e delle loro due bambine di 3 e 4 anni.

Chris Watts è accusato di triplice omicidio e inquinamento delle prove e rischia la pena di morte.

Veniamo al contenuto delle interviste rilasciate da Watts. Christopher Watts, durante le interviste ha dissimulato ma nonostante tutto ha rivelato molte cose, soprattutto, di essere a conoscenza del fatto che Shannan, Bella e Celeste erano morte.

L’analisi linguistica di un’intervista o di un interrogatorio si basa sul confronto tra ciò che ci aspettiamo che un soggetto dica e ciò che invece dice.

Da un punto di vista verbale ci aspettavamo da Christopher Watts che, disponendo di una cassa di risonanza quale sono i Media, chiedesse a chi lo ascoltava di aiutarlo a ritrovare sua moglie e le bambine e che si mostrasse preoccupato per loro, invece Watts non solo non si è mai rivolto a chi lo ascoltava chiedendo aiuto per ritrovare Shannan, Bella e Celeste ma ha mostrato un sospetto distacco affettivo nei loro confronti non nominandole mai e, soprattutto, nel tentativo di deumanizzarle, è arrivato più volte a paragonarle a degli oggetti, un classico atteggiamento di chi, dopo aver commesso un crimine brutale, non vuole confrontarsi con il proprio senso di colpa; si è spesso auto censurato; è stato lui, a sole 24 ore dalla scomparsa, a parlare prematuramente di “incubo” e del fatto che le tre componenti della sua famiglia potessero essere in pericolo; ci ha rivelato di essere a conoscenza del fatto che Shannan, Bella e Celeste erano morte, sia quando ha parlato delle bambine al passato, che quando, in più occasioni, ha accentrato l’attenzione esclusivamente sui propri bisogni e non su quelli di sua moglie, in stato di gravidanza, e delle due bambine di soli 3 e 4 anni. Il motivo non è da ricercare nelle caratteristiche personologiche di Watts, il motivo è semplice: I morti non hanno più bisogno di niente; ha spesso usato, per riempire i vuoti del suo racconto e per evitare di rispondere alle domande, una specie di mantra: “Io voglio solo che tornino”; non ha negato di essere coinvolto nella loro scomparsa ma ha accettato di buon grado ciò che un innocente de facto non accetterebbe mai, ovvero di indossare le vesti del sospettato; ha ammesso tra le righe di aver caricato i cadaveri in auto dall’entrata posteriore della sua abitazione, dove non sono posizionate telecamere a circuito chiuso; si è contraddetto in quanto ha rivelato ad un giornalista di aver avuto una “conversazione emozionale” con sua moglie al ritorno della stessa da un viaggio di lavoro, intorno alle 2 di notte del giorno della scomparsa, mentre ad un altro giornalista ha invece riferito che a quell’ora stava dormendo. 

Il movente del triplice omicidio? Un insieme di cofattori: difficoltà economiche, una crisi coniugale che si è aggravata con la nuova gravidanza di Shannan e, con tutta probabilità, un patologico bisogno di dominio e controllo, quale sintomo di un disturbo di personalità che affligge Christopher Watts.

Su questo stesso blog l’analisi completa dell’intervista rilasciata da Chris Watts.

Analysis of some excerpts from an interview released by Curtis Lovelace to correspondent Maurey Maher

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Curtis and Cory Lovelace

Curtis Lovelace, was a former University of Illinois football star and a successful Illinois state prosecutor.

On Valentine’s Day 2006, his wife Cory, 38, was found dead in their house of Quincy, Illinois. The case was closed as “death from natural causes”.

Eight years after, an investigator re-opened the case and Curtis Lovelace was charged with his wife’s murder.

In 2014, after a first trial, a jury was unable to reach a verdict.

In 2017, after a second trial, the jury reached a not guilty verdict.

What we look for in the following excerpts is for Curtis Lovelace to issue a reliable denial.

A reliable denial is found in the free editing process, not in the parroted language and has 3 components:

1. the pronoun “I”
2. past tense verb “did not” or “didn’t”
3. accusation answered

If a denial has more than 3 or less than 3 components, it is no longer reliable.

There is no consequence to issue a reliable denial about any false allegation.

“I did not kill Cory” followed by “I told the truth” while addressing the denial, it is more than 99% likely to be true. This would be the “wall of truth”. 

The “wall of truth” is an impenetrable psychological barrier that often leads innocent people to few words, as the subject has no need to persuade anyone of anything.

We begin every statement analysis expecting truth, and it is the unexpected that confronts us as possibly deceptive.

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Curtis Lovelace

Curtis Lovelace: I knew that… uhm… she wasn’t taking care of herself. I was aware of the bulimia avenging and the purging late in the day. Cory was an alcoholic. And… unfortunately so much of alcoholism, all of alcoholism is not… is not pretty. It’s… it’s ugly. And… it brings out oftentimes the worst in people. And… it was something that she… she struggled with.

Maurey Maher: You said you drank. Would you describe yourself as an alcoholic?

Curtis Lovelace: I do describe my… myself as an alcoholic and I stopped drinking.

Note that Curtis Lovelace describes himself as “an alcoholic” and asserted that “alcoholism brings out, oftentimes, the worst in people”. This is an “embedded admission”.

Curtis Lovelace: The vivid memory is… is her coming down. One of the ch… one of the kids needed a pair of pants. She wasn’t feelin’ any better. And we made the decision that… I would’ve take the kids to school.

Note that he says “The vivid memory is…”, something unexpected in a truthful account. These are unnecessary words whereas in truthful accounts people can only tell what is in their “memory”. This may be an indication that previously he told the correspondent what was not from his experiential memory.

Maurey Maher: What was your reaction?

Curtis Lovelace: Uhm… I Just utter shocked, I… infact, I’m… I’m not even sure how I reacted, I know what I did.

Note the pause “Uhm” and the stuttering “I”, signals that the question is sensitive to him. 

Note the use of “just”“just” is a dependent word used to comparison. Its communication is found in dependence upon another thought and as other dependent words reveals withheld information.

Curtis Lovelace: What I saw was someone who didn’t need help… uhm… I just saw my wife who had passed away.

Note that he refers to his wife Cory as “someone”, this is distancing language. 

Who doesn’t need help? “Someone” who is dead.

Note the pause “uhm”.

Note the word “just” used to comparison. 

Maurey Maher: Did you have anything to do with the death of your wife, Cory?

Curtis Lovelace: I did not.

This is not a reliable denial for two reasons:

  • Lovelace is parroting back the interviewer’s words;
  • his denial is incomplete because he didn’t add in the specific accusation.

 Curtis Lovelace: To not only get called a murderer, but to say that I murdered the mother of my children, it’s horrible. This is a prosecution that should have never been brought. There never should have been an indictment.

Note that when he says “I murdered the mother of my children”, he framed himself without parroting anybody’s words. This is an “embedded admission”. 

Note than after Lovelace says “This is a prosecution that should have never been brought. There never should have been an indictment”, he is unable to add “because I didn’t kill my wife Cory”.

Curtis Lovelace: We assumed that… uhm… that her.. her eating disorder, that her alcoholism… uhm… somehow caused her death. And whether it was checked undetermined… uh… or natural death, really wasn’t something that we were concerned about.

Note the use of “uhm” and “uh” as a pause to take time to think. 

Note that when Lovelace says “We assumed that” and “we were concerned about”, he shows a desire to hide in a crowd like most guilty people.

Maurey Maher: So how do you find yourself in this position?

Curtis Lovelace: It’s a good question, as a question that we’ve been asking for the last two and a half years.

Again, when he says “we’ve been asking”, he shows a desire to hide in a crowd.

During the trial Curtis Lovelace told the court: As I approach the bed, I ca… I can see… I can see her hands… uhm… I can see… uhm… I can see her eyes were open… uhm… and she was… she was very pale and there was just… there was nothing there. Cory was dead… Uhm… that’s what I saw… uhm… that’s what I saw. I told them multiple times that I had nothing to do with Cory’s death.

Note how he uses the non-word “uhm” and the repetitions of “I can see”, “she was”, “that’s what”to take time to think.  

Note that when he says “As I approach the bed, I ca… I can see… I can see her hands… uhm… I can see… uhm… I can see her eyes were open… uhm…” he speaks at the present tense. When someone is speaking of an event in the past, it is expected to use past tense language. Present tense language is deemed unreliable. Deceptive people often use the present counting on us to interpret and assume that they are speaking of the past event.

“I told them multiple times that I had nothing to do with Cory’s death” is not a reliable denial. “I didn’t kill my wife Cory” is a reliable denial.

I told them multiple times is different from “I told the truth”. To repeat something “multiple times” doesn’t make it the truth. 

Curtis Lovelace: (prosecutor) Adam Gibson decided to create a crime where one didn’t exist.

This is not a reliable denial.

ANALYSIS CONCLUSION:

Deception Indicated.

During this interview with correspondent Maurey Maher:

  • Curtis Lovelace didn’t issue a reliable denial. The absence of a denial, it’s a concern. If someone is unable or unwilling to say that he didn’t do it, we are not permitted to say so for him.
  • Lovelace admitted to be “an alcoholic” and that “alcoholism brings out oftentimes the worst in people”.
  • He then released an embedded admission when he said: “I murdered the mother of my children”.

Curtis Lovelace has guilty knowledge of what happened to his wife Cory.

Analysis of some excerpts from an interview released by Chris Watts before his arrest for the murder of his pregnant wife Shannan and their two daughters

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On August, 15, Christopher Watts, 33, confessed the murders of his pregnant wife Shannan, 34, and their daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3.

These long interview was released to Denver7 on August, 14, just one day after Watts reported his family of three missing.

According to Colorado court records, Christopher Watts faces three counts of first-degree murder after deliberation, two counts of first degree murder victim under 12/position of trust, one count of first degree unlawful termination of a pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body.

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Chris Watts could face execution, Judge Marcelo Kopcow told him on August, 22. District Attorney Michael Rourke has nine weeks to decide whether to seek execution.

We expect from Chris Watts:

to express verbal concern for the well being of his pregnant wife Shannan and his young daughters, Bella and Celeste;

to show urgency;

to show a sense of need for his wife and daughters, not for himself;

to introduce his family with a complete social introductions indicative of a good relationship between him and his wife and daughters;

to show fear, impatience, frustration, sense of impotency;

and to ask for help in finding his wife and his daughters.

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Bella and Celeste Watts

 Journalist: (inaudible)

Chris Watts: Chris Watts, W-A-T-T-S

Journalist: What’s going on right now in your house?

Chris Watts: Right now it’s the Canine Unit of the Sheriff’s Department, everybody is like there, they are doing their best, right now, to figure out, like, if they can get a scent to see… where they went, they went on foot, they went in a car, they went somewhere and right now it’s like the… they’ve been at a point, they are going through the house trying to get scent, hopefully they can pick up something up towards that gonna lead to something.

Note that Watts refers to his wife and daughters as “they”, no names, no titles, no possessive pronouns.

“hopefully they can pick up something up towards that gonna lead to something” is vague. If Watts is unable or unwilling to say “I hope they’ll find my wife Shannan and my daughters” we are not allowed to say so for him.

Journalist: What happened (inaudible)?

Chris Watts: As you made, she came home from the airport 2 am and I left around 5:15, she was still here and… like, about 12:10 in the afternoon, her friend Nicole showed up at the door. I get her texted Shannan few times that day, I called her to say, you know, she never got back to me but she wasn’t getting back to any of her people as well and that’s what really concerned a lot of people, is like she’s not getting back to her, like, she is not getting back to me, that’s fine, like, she gets busy during the day but she didn’t get back to her people which was very concerning and Nicole called me when she get at the door and that’s when I came home and then walked in the house and… nothing, it’s vanished, nothing was here, I mean, she wasn’t… she wasn’t here, the kids weren’t here, nope, nobody was here.

Note that he refers to his wife as “she”, he doesn’t use her name (Shannan) or her title (wife) and the possessive pronoun (my).

Note that Watts says “left” instead of “went to work”;  the verb “left” when used as a connecting verb, is an indication of missing information.

Note that the fact that she didn’t answer the phone “really concerned a lot of people” not him.

Note that the first time he uses his wife’s name in in relation to her friend Nicole. 

“you know” is a pause and a signal of an acute awareness of the interviewer. 

As humans often speak in an economy of words we note any additional words. “she was still here” or “walked in the house” are unnecessary words that evidently Watts has a reason to add to his statement, therefore, any word that a subject needs to add is double important for us.

Is “she was still here” alibi building?

Watts’ need to add “walked”, as a reference to his body posture, is a signal of increase in tension.

We note in the sentence “I came home and then walked in the house” that “home” becomes “the house” when he walked in. This is distancing language. What induced Watts to substitute the word “home” with “the house”

When Watts says “and… nothing, it’s vanished, nothing was here, I mean”, he is referring to his family as objects; usually murderers verbally dehumanised their victims not to face up the sense of guilt.  

she wasn’t… she wasn’t here, the kids weren’t here, nope, nobody was here”, he refers to his wife as “she” and to his daughters as “the kids”, who’s kids? This is distancing language.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Chris Watts: Shannan, S-H-A-N-N-A-N.

Journalist: (inaudible) your kids (inaudible)?

Chris Watts: Bella and Celeste.

Note that he didn’t use his daughters’ names except when asked.  This is distancing language and is not expected from an innocent father.

Journalist: And spell Celeste?

Chris Watts: C-E-L-E-S-T-E.

Journalist: And how old (inaudible)?

Chris Watts: Bella is 4, Celeste is 3.

Journalist: And so, how many times did you check on her?

Chris Watts: I called her three times, texted about three times, just to say, you know, what’s going on, like, I did… I after… after I called her and texted her once, like, right maybe she was just busy, like, she’d just got back, you know, like, everybody probably calling her from her trip, she just got back from Arizona and…  I figured that she is just busy but when her friend showed up that (inaudible) I registered, like, right, this isn’t right.

Note that he refers to his wife as “her” and “she”, not as “my wife” or “my wife Shannan” or “Shannan”.

Note his frequent use of the word “just”. “just” is a dependent word used to comparison. Its communication is found in dependence upon another thought and as other dependent words reveals withheld information. 

Journalist: Do you think she just took off, do you think?

Chris Watts: I mean, right now, I don’t want to just throw anything out there, like, I hope that she’s somewhere safe right now and… with the kids but, I mean… could she (inaudible), could she have just taken off? I don’t know, but if somebody has her and they’re not safe like I want them back now, like that… that… that’s what am I like if they are safe right now, they’re gonna come back, but if they are not safe right now, that’s what… that’s the unknown part like if they’re not safe, I… I… last night… I wish, I had every lights in the house on, I was hoping that I would just get… just ran over by the kids running in the door just like barrel, rushing me but it didn’t happened and it was just a traumatic night trying to be here.

Note the use of “I mean” to take time to think. 

“I don’t want to just throw anything out there” sounds like leakage (an inadvertent release of information). Why did he say “throw out”? Because “throw out” was in his mind. Did he “throw anything out there”? Remember his reference to his family as objects “nothing, it’s vanished, nothing was here”.

“I hope that she’s somewhere safe right now and… with the kids but, I mean…” is an incomplete sentence. This is self censoring. There are missing information here. We also note his use of “but, I mean…”,  was he trying to explain why he believes she is unsafe? 

Note the stuttering “I” which shows increase in anxiety.

We note his reference to “lights” and “door”.

Note again his frequent use of the word “just”. 

Journalist: Can I ask another tough question, your relation with the kids?

Chris Watts: Whe… whenever, I mean, the kids are my life, I mean, those… those smiles are my life and there’s, like, I mean, last night, like, during (inaudible), you know, when they usually dinner it was just, like, I missed them like, I mean, I missed tell them: Hey, you got to eat that or you’re gonna… not gonna get your dessert! You know, and just, like: Not gonna get your snack after! I missed that, I missed them, you know, cuddle up on their couches. They have like a Minnie Mouse couch and Sophia couch that they cuddle up on and watch on Bubble Guppies or something and it was just, like, you know, I mean, I… I was com… it was tearing me apart last night and I needed that, I needed that last night and for that… for nobody to be here last night and then going into their rooms and not… and know that I wasn’t gonna turn the rain machines on, I know that I wasn’t gonna turn their monitor on, no, I wasn’t gonna kiss them to bed tonight, it was… it… it was like I… I co… that’s why last night was just horrible, I couldn’t do it th… I was… I just want… I want everybody to come home like wherever they are at. Come home, that’s what I want.

Note that, in his verbalised perception of the reality, his two beautiful daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, are just “the kids”. This is distancing language.

Note that he is unable to say “their smiles” instead he says “those smiles” showing no closeness to his daughters.

Note the stuttering “I” which shows increase in anxiety.

Note the use of “I mean” to take time to think. 

Note again his frequent use of the word “just”. 

Note that the focus is on himself, on his needs, not on his wife’s and daughters’ needs: “I missed them (…) I missed tell them (…) I missed that, I missed them (…)  I… I was com… it was tearing me apart last night and I needed that, I needed that last night  (…) I couldn’t do it th… I was… I just want… I want everybody to come home like wherever they are at, come home, that’s what I want”. 

“I want everybody to come home like wherever they are at, come home, that’s what I want” is probably true and it’s due to the stressful position he is right now.

Note that Watts doesn’t show any concern for his wife Shannan and his daughters, this tells us that he knows that his family is beyond need of help because they are dead.

Journalist: She came back Sunday (inaudible)?

Chris Watts: Yeah, cause her flight got delayed from Arizona, cause, like, other storms around the nation, so she was supposed to get home like 11:00, she got home at like 1:48, around about 2:00.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Chris Watts: It was a thrived wrecked sales, uh… it was a local event that was down there between a bunch of leaders in their company.

Journalist: (inaudible) the day she was back, I mean (inaudible)?

Chris Watts: I lef… I left wor… for work early that morning like 5:15, 5:30 so like she… barely let me, she barely got… barely got in the bed pretty much.

Note the initial repetition “I lef… I left wor…”, a signal that the question is sensitive to him.

What happened between 2:00 am and 5:15 (am)? There are missing information here. He likely kill them between 2:00 am and 5:15 am.

Note the verb “left” in the same position as before. “left”, when used as a connecting verb, is an indication of missing information. 

“barely” is repeated three times, this is sensitive to him and has to do with the element of time as the verb “left”. “barely” repeated three times opens to the possibility that Shannan never got in the bed the night she came back home from Arizona.

Journalist: This might be a tough question but… did you guys get into an argument before you went to work?

Chris Watts: It wasn’t… it wasn’t like an argument, we had an emotional conversation but I’ll leave it at that, but it’s… I just want them back, I just… I just want them to come back and if… if they are not safe right now that’s what’s… that’s what’s tearing me apart because if they are safe, they are coming but if they are not, this… this… this has got to stop like somebody has to come forward.

Note the initial repetition “It wasn’t… it wasn’t”, a signal that the question is sensitive to him.

“I’ll leave it at that” is a way to close the topic.

“but it’s…” is self censoring, a signal that Watts is withholding information. 

Note the mantra “I just want them back, I just… I just want them to come back”.

Note his frequent use of the word “just”. 

For the second time, Watts is the one to open to the possibility that his family is not safe “and if… if they are not safe right now”.

Journalist: What are her parents saying to you?

Chris Watts: They just say, hey if they need to get on a flight just let them know because, I mean, they don’t… they feel hopeless right now because they… they are on the opposite side of the country, I mean, Colorado, I mean, can’t just drive around and look, I mean, it’s just like you wouldn’t really know what you are looking for, that’s what the cops told me, the first day I was like: I want to get out and drive around! You wouldn’t know what to look for.

Note the use of “I mean” to take time to think. 

The journalist invited Watts to make an appeal:

Chris Watts: Shannan, Bella, Celeste, if you are out there, just… just come back, like, if somebody has her, just please bring her back. I need to see everybody. I need to see everybody again. This house is not complete with… without anybody here. Please bring her back.

Why “out there”?

Note “I need to see everybody. I need to see everybody again”, the focus is again on himself, on his needs, not on his wife’s and daughters’ needs. However “I need to see everybody. I need to see everybody again” is probably true and it’s due to the stressful position he is right now.

4F2BEECE00000578-6073087-The_couple_s_home_where_police_say_the_murders_were_committed_is-a-3_1534626236863

The family home

Journalist: (inaudible)

Chris Watts: The most important thing, I’m not sure, I’ll just wait for you to ask questions, but like it’s… I want… I want them wherever they are at, like, I have no inclination where they’re at right now, like, I’ve exhausted like every friend that I know of and every friend that I have has called friends that Shannan has that maybe I didn’t know about and it’s just like, there is, just like, is vanished like, when I got home yesterday, it was like a ghost town like, she wasn’t here, kids weren’t here. I have no idea, like, where they went and it doesn’t just earth shattering, I feel like this isn’t even real right now. It’s like a nightmare that I just can’t wake up from.

“I have not idea” is not a reliable answer as everybody has ideas on everything.

After just 24 hours, it’s premature to call these disappearances “a nightmare”.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Chris Watts: Yes… uh… I’d text her a few times, called her but I didn’t get a response, that was a little odd and then her friend Nicole showed up about that afternoon, I see her on the doorbell camera and I was like: Hey, what’s going on? I can’t get ahold of Shannan and that’s when I was, just like, something’s not right. She’s not answering the door and she said the car was here, it’s like I gotta go home and got here, got inside and no… nobody was here, not… nothing.

Note again that he refers to his wife as “Shannan” only in relation with her friend Nicole.

Note the reference to his missing family as “nothing” for the second time.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Chris Watts: Yeah, cause Bella was gonna start kindergarten next… next Monday and they… they were just getting ready to start, start back again.

Note the words “was” and “were”, his daughters are missing and he speaks of them in the past tense. This could be a linguistic signal that he knows or believes that they are deceased. We expected Watts to believe Bella and Celeste alive and to speak in the present tense as when a child goes missing, a parent has a natural, parental denial, especially so early on. 

Journalist: (inaudible)

Chris Watts: She was here at the front door and… that’s when I knew: Okay, like, if she’s not answering anybody else either, this’s… this isn’t like her. I mean, she works at direct sales business and that’s her, that’s what she does and for her not to respond to any of her people that, I mean, she hasn’t answered to me, that’s fine, I’m like she is busy, she has staff going on, but not to respond to her people, that was… that was not like her.

Journalist: Chris, you got a beautiful family, you know, and it looks like you love each other very much, what went in your mind the minute you kind of like something is wrong?

Chris Watts: Like I… I was trying to get home as fast as I can, I was blowing through stoplights, I was pulling through everything just trying to get home as fast as I can because none of this made sense like, if she wasn’t here, where did she go? Like, once I get here it was: Alright who can I call? Who do I know that could be with right now? If she went to a friends house, where could she‘ve been staying? And we went through everybody, I mean, just everything in my… in my contact list and her fri… friends’ contact list and nothing has come up, everybody said they haven’t heard from her either. I’m just hoping right now that she’s uhm somewhere safe and maybe she’s just… she’s there but right now it’s just like if she’s vanished, like I want her back, I want those kids back so bad.

Note again the stuttering “I” which shows increase in anxiety.

The reaction he had on Monday morning sounds premature, it was just 12:10 am, his wife Shannan could have been out for a walk with her daughters.

Journalist: People think you may have done something.

Chris Watts: Yeah, I mean, nothing… nothing… everybody is gonna have their own opinion on… on anything like this, I just wanna people to know that I want my family back, I want them safe and I want them here like, this house is not the same, I mean. Last night was traumatic, last night was… I… I can’t really stay in this house again, like with nobody here and last night I wanted… I wanted that knock at the door, I wanted to see th… I wanted to see this kids running… running, just… just barrel rush me, just give me a hug and knock me on the ground, but that didn’t happen.

“I mean, nothing… nothing…”  is an incomplete sentence. Watts is unable or unwilling to say “I didn’t kill my family” and we are not allowed to say so for him. 

After Watts says “everybody is gonna have their own opinion on… on anything like this”, accepting a possible guilt, something that an innocent doesn’t accept, he fills his answer with the same mantra “I want my family back, I want them safe and I want them here”.

When watts says “Last night was traumatic, last night was… I… I can’t really stay in this house again, like with nobody here and last night I wanted… I wanted that knock at the door, I wanted to see th… I wanted to see this kids running… running, just… just barrel rush me, just give me a hug and knock me on the ground, but that didn’t happen”, the focus is on himself, again.

Journalist: What’s the hardest part of this?

Chris Watts: Not knowing, like if they’re safe or if they’re in trouble like there is a stat it’s the variable like I’m nor sure, I mean, I can’t do anything right now from I’m at… like, I’m not sure if they are safe somewhere, just huddle up somewhere, or if they’re in trouble and knowing that they could be in trouble, it just spare shattering right now and it doesn’t feel like it’s real.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Chris Watts: I… I… I wouldn’t put anything out there like this, suspecting, like, you are something, like, someone pulled in the back and because we have the driveway back from the new townhomes, but it’s so hard to tell, like there is no camera in the backyard or anything like that, so it’s… it’s really hard to even suspect anything right now as far as how she could left or someone came and picked her up or someone took her.

“I… I… I wouldn’t put anything out there”: 

after a stuttering “I”, which shows increase in anxiety, his words “put anything out there” should be considered leakage, again, remember, during the interview he referred to his wife and daughters as “nothing”.

“someone pulled in the back” is an embedded admission.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Chris Watts: It’s… I’ve never seen something like this in my life time unless it was on tv or a movie and this… this doesn’t seem real at all, it just seems like I’m leaving in a nightmare and I can’t get out of it, I just want them home so bad.

Note the mantra “I just want them home so bad”, again.

Journalist: Did you see your kids and your wife, you had the kids?

Chris Watts: I had the kids over the weekend. 

Journalist: Did you see your wife when she get home?

Chris Watts: She got home really late, about 2 am, from the airport when she got back from Arizona.

This answer is evasive. “really late” are unnecessary words, where does he want to drive the point? He wants the journalist to think that he was sleeping. This is alibi building.

Journalist: Did you wake up and say (inaudible)?

Chris Watts: No… yes, I saw her when she get in but it was really quick, just because it was 2 am in the morning, but I saw the kids in the monitor before I left and that was it.

Note that he first says “No” then “yes”. Note that what he says is in contradiction with what he said before about the “emotional conversation” he had on Monday morning with his wife before he went to work.

Note the verb “left”, again and in the same position of his narrative. “left”, when used as a connecting verb, is an indication of missing information. 

“and that was it” is a way to close the topic.

Journalist: Describe your daughter to us.

Chris Watts: Celeste, she’s just a bubble of energy, she’s called rampage because she’s like… she’s always… it’s… she’s got two speeds to go or she’s sleeping and she’s always a troublemaker, she’s always the one jumping off things, you know, and she’s yelling at you and all kind of things. Bella she’s the more calm, cautious, mothering type and she’s… she’s more like me, she’s more calm, she’s… but Celeste has definitely got her mom’s personality where she’s always hung-ho ready to go.

Note that words as “rampage”, “troublemaker”, “yelling” are referred not only to his daughter Celeste but also to his wife Shannan, as “Celeste has definitely got her mom’s personality”. This is a sneaky way to blame his wife. Moreover, Watts feels the need to ingratiate himself with the journalist as he uses words as “calm”, “cautious”, “mothering type” to describe his daughter Bella and himself, as he says “she (Bella)’s more like me”. This is the “Good Guy/Bad Guy” Principle in Statement Analysis.  He has a desire to appear as a “Good Guy” to cover up a “Bad Guy”

Journalist: (inaudible)

Chris Watts: As I said, it’s like just I want everybody back, that’s what I want, I need everybody back here, I need everybody safe.

Note the mantra “it’s like just I want everybody back, that’s what I want, I need everybody back here, I need everybody safe”, again.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Chris Watts: It’s not something I could ever ever fathom would happen in my lifetime and I have no inclination of where she is. She said she was going to a friend’s house with the kids and that’s the last thing I heard, and that was it. It was very vague. If somebody has her, just bring her back. I need to see everybody. I need to see everybody again. This house is not complete without anybody here.

“She said she was going to a friend’s house with the kids” is something he never said before.

Note the mantra “I need to see everybody. I need to see everybody again”, again.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Chris Watts: In my heart, I believe that she is somewhere and I hope that she is safe. I don’t know what to do right now. I just feel so alone in this house right now. I don’t know where to go from here.

Note that the focus is still on himself as he says “I don’t know what to do right now. I just feel so alone in this house right now. I don’t know where to go from here”.

ANALYSIS CONCLUSION:

Deception indicated.

Watts never called his daughters “my daughters” nor he ever used his daughters’s names except when asked. This is strongly indicative of distancing language showing the need to remove himself from them, something not expected from an innocent father. 

Watts never introduces his wife as expected. The social introduction is a key to understand their relationship at the time of the interviews. His linguistic disposition towards his wife tells us that they had a poor relationship.

He never showed any linguistic concern for his family.

There is no urgency in his words, no impatience for them. 

He did not ask for help for them.

He distanced himself from them.

He did not offer tips to police, nor even suggest what might have happened, or who might have taken them.

He was unable to deny his involvement in his wife and daughters’ disappearance and he accepted what the de facto innocent doesn’t accept: he allowed people to believe he is involved.

His deception and the lack of any words referred to his pregnant wife and daughters’ needs, reveal that he knows that they are beyond needs.

They are dead. 

4F25670E00000578-6074673-Watts_is_seen_in_court_on_Thursday_He_is_being_held_without_bail-a-5_1534657799453

Chris Watts at the preliminary hearing

On November 6, 2018, Christopher Watts pleaded guilty to all nine counts against him, including five counts of first-degree murder, one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy, and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body, in a deal that removes the death penalty as a possible sentence, according to the Weld County District Attorney’s Office.

On November 19, 2018 Christopher Watts was sentenced to three consecutive sentences of life in prison with no possibility for parole.

 Ursula Franco, MD and criminologist

Analysis of Mark A. Winger’s emergency phone calls

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Mark and Donnah Winger

Mark A. Winger (1962) is a former Springfield, Illinois nuclear power-plant technician, who was arrested on August 23, 2001 and sentenced to life in prison without parole on August 9, 2002 for the murders of his wife, Donnah Brown Winger (1963), and van driver Roger Harrington (1967).

On August 29, 1995 Mark Winger called 911 reporting he had shoot Roger Harrington, not knowing who he was, after finding him bludgeoning his wife with a hammer.

Here some excerpts from Winger’s emergency calls.

FIRST CALL:

911 Operator: 911, what’s your emergency?

Mark Winger: Please, help me. My God, my wife’s not breathing.

We note the word “Please” at the start of his first answer, this is a signal that Winger feels the need to ingratiate himself with the operator.

Note the words “help me”, Winger is not asking for help for his wife but for himself. This is unexpected and we often find these words in the language of the guilty.  

Note “My God”, any reference to Divinity is a signal of deception. Winger invokes “God” to look believable, this is a manipulative behaviour.

“My wife” is an incomplete social introduction. We always note the incomplete social introduction, usually a signal of a poor relationship. During an emergency call the reason for an incomplete social introduction can be the urgency, in this  first answer we note that the incomplete social introduction is in association with three other sensitivity indicators.

911 Operator: Okay, do you need an ambulance?

Mark Winger: I need everything, I need everything.

Note that Winger says to the operator that he is the one who needs “everything” not his wife.

SECOND CALL:

Police Dept: Springfield police.

Mark Winger: Yes, ma’m, help me.

We note the two words “Yes, ma’m” at the start of his answer. This is unexpected politeness. 

Note that Winger is asking for help for himself not for his wife, again.

Police Dept: What’s the problem?

Mark Winger: Uh… uh…  I just shot this man in my house.

Note that Winger doesn’t mention his wife, evidently his wife safety is not his priority.

The word “just” is a dependent word used in comparison. This means that Winger is comparing the fact that he “shot” with another thought.

We note the word “this” that shows closeness to the man he shot. 

Police Dept: Is he still inside your house?

Mark Winger: (inaudible) he beat my wife.

Note that Winger doesn’t answer the question but feels the need to tell the operator the reason why he “shot” the man, preempting a possible question on this topic, this is sensitive.

We note again the incomplete social introduction of his wife. 

Police Dept: Is he in there right now?

Mark Winger: Yes (inaudible) just (inaudible).

We note the dependent word “just”.

Police Dept: Does he have a gun?

Mark Winger: Her brains are everywhere.

We note that for the second time he doesn’t answer a question about the man he shot.

Police Dept: Where’s the man at?

Mark Winger: He is right on the floor.

Police Dept: Is he dead?

Mark Winger: I don’t know, he is making weird sounds.

Police Dept: Sir, sir?

Mark Winger: Please, please (inaudible).

Note that he uses again the word “please” twice to ingratiate himself with the operator. 

Police Dept: Sir, slow down, I can’t understand you, slow down. Is the man still in the house?

Mark Winger: Yes, he is laying there on the floor with a bullet in his head.

“with a bullet in his head” are unnecessary words. 

Police Dept: Did you shoot him?

Mark Winger: Yes, I shot him, he was killing my wife, please, let me… my baby is crying, my baby is crying, I’ve gotta go, I’ll call you right back.

Note that, without being asked, for the second time, he tells the operator the reason why he shot the man. This is sensitive to him. 

Note that “my wife” is still an incomplete social introduction.

Note that he uses again the word “please” to ingratiate himself with the operator.

THIRD CALL:

Mark Winger: Hello.

Police Dept: Mr Winger?

Mark Winger: Yes, yes.

Police Dept: This is the police department, we’ve got officers en route, I need to know what is going on there.

Mark Winger: My wife is dying on the floor.

“My wife” is still an incomplete social introduction. 

Note that Winger doesn’t ask for help for his wife nor he asks for help for himself to give her CPR.

Police Dept: Okay, is she still alive?

Mark Winger: I think so.

Police Dept: Okay, we’ve got an ambulance en route and we’ve got police officers en route. Where is the gun?

Mark Winger: I put it on the table, it’s on the table, it’s on the table, please, God, please, come here.

We note that, due to the repetitions, the “table” appears sensitive to him.

Note that he use again the word “please” twice to ingratiate himself with the operator. 

Note Winger’s reference to the Divinity.

Police Dept: We’ve got people on the way.

Mark Winger: Okay.

Police Dept: Who is this man?

Mark Winger: I… I don’t know who he is.

Note the stuttering “I”, a signal of increase in tension. The question appears to be sensitive to him.

Police Dept: Is he inside your house?

Mark Winger: Yes, he’s laying on the floor. Okay. I’ve got to hold my wife, I’ve gotta get to my wife.

Note that “my wife” is still an incomplete social introduction. 

We note that Winger diverts the topic here, introducing his wife, still not asking for any help for her.

According with the investigation, when paramedics arrived on the scene they found Winger’s wife, Donnah, face down on the floor. He never held her.

Police Dept: Okay, are you Mark Winger?

Mark Winger: Yes, I am. Yes, I am.

Police Dept: Okay, and your wife is Donnah?

Mark Winger: Yes, she is.

Police Dept: When the man came at?

Mark Winger: I… I don’t know, a few minutes ago, please… I ‘ve got to get to my wife, please, just let me get to my wife, I won’t hang up. Okay? Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God.

We note the stuttering “I”, a signal of increase in tension. The question appears to be sensitive to him. We note that the questions that produced the stuttering “I”, where both about “the man” that he shot.

Note that Winger uses again the word “please” to ingratiate himself with the operator and, in association with “I ‘ve got to get to my wife, please, just let me get to my wife”, to divert the topic.  This is the second time that when asked about the man he introduces his wife but doesn’t ask for any help for her. 

“my wife” is still an incomplete social introduction.

At the end of this answer he repeats six times “Oh God”.

Police Dept: Okay, we’ve got officers en route.

Mark Winger: Okay, my door’s open.

Police Dept: Okay.

Mark Winger: Okay.

 ANALYSIS CONCLUSION:

Deception indicated.

During these three phone calls, Winger never asked for help for his wife.

Winger’s priority were:

  1. to ingratiate himself with the operators; 
  2. to get help for himself;
  3. to explain the reason why he shot the man;
  4. to appear believable.

In this case, the incomplete social introduction is a signal of a poor relationship between the two. 

Winger has guilty knowledge of what happened to his wife Donnah.

Ursula Franco, MD and criminologist

Analysis of Martin J. MacNeill’s phone call to 911

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Michele Somers and Martin J. MacNeill

Martin J. MacNeill was born on February 1, 1956. He was a physician and a lawyer and the husband of Michele Marie Somers (January 15, 1957) who died on April 11, 2007 in Pleasant Grove, Utah. MacNeill practiced psychiatry, and Michele tended to their home and eight children.

A Utah jury found Dr. Martin J. MacNeill guilty of murdering his wife by overmedicating her then drowning her in a bathtub. The jury convicted MacNeill of murder, a first degree felony, and obstruction of justice, a second degree felony.

MacNeill filed a post-trial Motion to Arrest Judgment or For a New Trial on the ground that the Utah County Attorney’s Office failed to disclose exculpatory evidence in the form of consideration for Inmate One’s testimony. The trial court found that although the State suppressed exculpatory evidence related to Inmate One, the new information provided by MacNeill in his post-trial motion was cumulative and “would not have been reasonably likely to affect the outcome of the trial.” The trial court therefore denied MacNeill’s motion.

He committed suicide in prison in April 2017, after The Utah Court of Appeals denied him an appeal.

Martin-MacNeill-Dead-suicide-murder-Alexis-Somers

Dr MacNeill at his trial

Here is the emergency call made by Dr. Martin J. MacNeill on April 11, 2007:

Operator: Pleasant Grove Police Department.

MacNeill: I need… I need an ambulance (inaudible) please.

Note that MacNeill doesn’t ask for help for his wife nor does he report her medical condition to the operator.

We note the pause after “I need”.

We note the word “please” at the end of his first answer, a signal that MacNeill has a need to ingratiate himself with the operator. This is the “Good Guy/Bad guy” principle in Statement Analysis, only a “Bad guy” feels the need to portray himself as a “Good guy”.

 Operator: Okay. What’s the problem, sir? We need medical? Sir, what’s wrong?

MacNeill: My wife’s fallen in the bathtub.

Note that MacNeill’s still doesn’t ask for help for his wife and doesn’t report her status, his priority is to tell the operator that what happened to his wife was an accidentThis is unexpected. 

“My wife” is an incomplete social introduction. We always note the incomplete social introduction, usually a signal of a poor relationship, however we don’t conclude yet for sensitiveness because it could be either sensitive or compatible with the urgency of an emergency call. 

Operator: Who’s in the bathtub? Who’s in the bathtub?

MacNeill: My wife.

Note the incomplete social introduction, again; here, more than in the previous answer, his wife’s name was expected. We note that the incomplete social introduction is in association with other sensitivity indicators, especially with the lack of any request for help for his wife. 

Operator: Okay. Is she conscious?

MacNeill: She’s not. It happens that I’m a physician. I need help. She is not conscious.

Why MacNeill feels the need to tell the operator to be a physician? Has this self-reference anything to do with his need to be placed between the “Good guys”? 

Note that MacNeill tells us that he is the one who needs help not his wife. This is unexpected but evidently he has a reason to need help. 

Operator: Sir, sir, I need you to calm down. Sir, I can’t understand you. Okay? Can you calm down just a little bit?

MacNeill: I need help.

Note that he is asking for help for himself not for his wife, again.

Operator: Okay, what… your wife is unconscious?

MacNeill: She is unconscious. She’s under water.

Note that he didn’t help his wife to get out the water before calling 911. This is unexpected and incriminating.

Operator: Okay. Did you get her out of the water?

MacNeill: I can’t… I just couldn’t lift, I let the water out (inaudible).

The word “just” is a dependent word used in comparison. This means that MacNeill is comparing what he is saying with another thought. 

Note the word “lift”, this could be leakage.

Operator: She’s under the water?

MacNeill: She’s under the water. Why don’t you send me an ambulance?

The fact that his wife is still under the water is unexpected and incriminating. There is only one reason for MacNeill to lose precious time, he has no intention to save his wife’s life.

Operator: Okay. Is she breathing at all?

MacNeill: She’s not.

Operator: Okay, sir, the ambulance has been paged. They’re on their way. Okay? Do not hang up.

MacNeill: (inaudible)

Operator: What? Sir?

MacNeill: (inaudible)

Here a second phone call made by the 911 operator:

Operator: Sir, this is 911. Can I help you?

MacNeill: I need help.

Note that he is asking for help for himself for the third time while he never asked for help for his wife. This is sensitive. 

Operator: Okay, sir, they’re on their way. Is your wife breathing?

MacNeill: She is not. I am a physician. I’ve got CPR in progress (inaudible).

Operator: You’re doing CPR?

Operator: Sir, how old is your wife?

MacNeill: My wife is 50 years old. She just had surgery a couple of days, a week ago.

Note that MacNeill introduces the topic of the surgery without being asked.

Operator: What kind of surgery did she have?

MacNeill: She had a facelift.

Here, note that prior to say “facelift” he said “I just couldn’t lift”, most likely because the word “lift” was in his mind.

Operator: She had a facelift?

MacNeill: Yes.

Operator: Okay. Do you know how to do CPR?

MacNeill: I’m doing it.

Operator: OK, do not hang up.

ANALYSIS CONCLUSION:

Deception indicated.

Dr. MacNeill has guilty knowledge of what happened to his wife Michele.

Dr. MacNeill, despite being a doctor, was not proactive when he found his wife in the bathtub and he never asked for help for his wife to the 911 operator. His priorities were not only to appear as a “Good guy” bu to tell the operator that she had fallen in the bathtub and that she had surgery. This is alibi building.

Dr. MacNeill has guilty knowledge of what happened to his wife Michele.

MacNeill recognised he was the one in need of help because he killed his wife.

Ursula Franco, MD and criminologist