A Cold October Morning

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         2:30 am, shots ring out on the 1500 block of Bayscape Rd.  Responding units arrive on scene to find a women lying face down in the parking lot of the Ramada Inn.  A male with an unknown object in his hand and female stand overtop the lifeless body.  The first officer on scene orders the subjects to show their hands.  The male quickly grabs the female and pulls her into room 104, which was located approximately 20 feet away from the body.  The officer was able to determine that the female lying on the ground had been killed with a single gunshot wound to the head.  The officer realizes that a there was a homicide that had just turned into a hostage barricade situation.

       I received a phone call at 3:00am to help assist with the investigation.  At approximately 6:00am, the male subject surrenders and is taken into custody.  It is now my job to figure out what happened.  While the crime scene technicians are meticulously processing the crime scene, I begin interviewing witnesses.  An interview is a technique of questioning that elicits information from witnesses about a crime (Leo, 2008).  I interview the female (we will call her Ann) who had been held hostage.  She explains to me that the male (we will call Mike) subject and the deceased female had been arguing all day.  She further explains that Mike became physically violent towards her.  Ann claimed that the victim told Mike that she was going to call the police.  Ann further stated that Mike replied by saying, "If you call the police I am going to shoot you."  Ann called the police and was subsequently killed.  I spoke to other patrons of the motel who were able to establish credibility to Ann's statement.  They confirmed that they heard the victim and the male subject (Mike) arguing for a better part of the day.  When all of the witnesses were asked why they didn't call the police when they heard the arguing, many stated, "I assumed someone else would."  This is known as the bystander effect where people are less likely to help in an emergency when other bystanders are present (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012, p. 247).  In this case, it was a busy hotel where roughly 100 guests were staying.

       I spoke with my crime scene technicians who advised me that they had located a loaded .45 automatic handgun behind the door in room 104.  They further explained that the caliber matched the shell casing that lie next to the body.  Between the witness statements and the evidence, I was confident in Mike's guilt, and I was ready to start my investigative interview (Kassin et al., 2010).  It has been my experience in conducting interviews that the suspects often times want to tell their stories.  I am not sure if it is to brag or to get the guilt off of their chest.  Since I want to hear their stories I conduct what is known as a cognitive interview, which is a form of an investigative interview (Fisher, Geiselman, & Raymond, 1987).  This allows me to ask open ended and non-leading questions to gather information.  It also allows for detailed notes and to go back and clear things up (Schneider et al., 2012).

       During the interview with Mike, he explained everything.  He explained how he had been drinking all day and that "his old lady" had been harassing him.  He said they had been fighting constantly for the past week because she though he was cheating on her.  Mike further explained that he killed her because he was on probation for a drug charge and he didn't want to go back to jail for domestic assault which would violate his probation.  Which promptly made me ask, "so, you kill her?" to which his only reply was, "I guess I didn't think it through."  While this is a tragic set of circumstances it just goes to show that criminals are not very smart.  If I would have used a different interview method, Mike may have shut down and refused to answer any questions.  An example of a bad interview method would be to just ask yes and no questions.  This allows the suspect to give limited detail and often makes them feel as if you are blaming them.


References

Fisher, R. P., Geiselman, R. E., & Raymond, D. S. (1987). Critical analysis of police interview techniques. Journal of Police Science and Administration, 15(), 177-185.

Kassin, S. M., Drizin, S. A., Grisso, T., Gudjonsson, G. H., Leo, R. A., & Redlich, A. D. (2010). Police-induced confessions: Risk factors and recommendations. Law and Human Behavior, 34(), 3-38.

Leo, R. A. (2008). Police interrogation and American justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology, understanding and addressing social and practical problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

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4 Comments

After reading this, all I could think about was how Mike resort to shooting his "old lady?" I understand that she harassed him and maybe he just snapped but that is no excuse for making the decision to end someone's life. During the interview with Mike, did you ask how ending her life was the best scenario for him? And how long he had thought about ending ending her life? It is hard to fathom that did not put a lot of thought into what he did. I mean, you're ending a life, a life that is not your own. You would really have to put a lot of thought into doing something like that. Unless he was in a situation where she was threatening doing to end his and he needed to do in in order to protect his. It is just a scary thought to think that someone could jump to a solution such as this. In addition to that, how does a solution like this come to mind without considering the repercussions? Another question I have is, did he even seem remorseful?

I asked him how ending her life would help him. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, "she was going to get me in trouble." This is the only justification he had. He advised me that it was a split decision and that he never gave it any thought in the past. Sometimes its not like the movies. There has been research (which I do not have in front of me but if i find it I will share with you) that says people often look for the immediate gratification. They do not often think of the consequences of their actions they tend to do what is best for them in the short run. This was a case in which this is true. He didn't think about jail time, the loss of a person, the repercussions of what his actions had on her family. He didn't care, he just wished not to get in trouble for her calling the police.
This incident happened in 2008 during my interview i asked if he regretted it. He again looked me dead in the eyes and said, "why should I? That B*tch got what she deserved." This statement often plays back in my mind. It is one reason why I went back to school to study psychology. I wanted to better understand what goes on in the minds of individuals like this.
I had the unfortunate pleasure of speaking with "Mike" again about four months ago during a hearing. He still has no remorse for his actions.
I understand if you have more questions than answers I was the lead investigator on this case and I still do. Sometimes we may never really know.

It’s sad to see how often people succumb to the bystander effect and the detrimental effects it can cause. It’s unbelievable and scary that this man came to the conclusion that instead of getting into trouble for domestic assault and violating his parole that killing the woman was the best option. I know you said he was on parole due to a prior drug charge, so would you have classified him in the life-course-persistent group or had he just made some major errors? Did you learn the cognitive interview while in training for an investigator or is it something you learned along the way. Do you find others in your field use the cognitive interview as well or is it as Fisher and Schreiber (2007) have seen that interviewing skills have not significantly improved with investigators still relying on close-ended questioning methods?


Reference
Fisher, R. P., and Schreiber, N. (2007). Interviewing protocols to improve eyewitness memory. In M. Toglia, J. Reed, D. Ross, & R. Lindsay (Eds.), The handbook of eyewitness psychology: Volume 1. Memory for events (pp. 53-80). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

The criminal justice system is full of people like Mike. I've worked with quite a few psychologists and social workers who have had direct experience with people like him. They often come from places where they don't expect to live beyond the age of 25, so immediate gratification is the only option as long term goals are unrealistic to them. I knew one person who worked with juvenile delinquents who was having a baby at 25. The teens asked her: "Aren't you too old to be having a kid?" 25 was almost a grandmother status to them as their view of life was that it was short. I'm not going to downplay the personality or other personal factors of the individuals who commit crime, as there are obviously are some ingrained values there that quite possibly stem from inborn personality traits. I just wanted to point out that there are environmental factors that contribute to.

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