Monday, July 28, 2008

Looking Back

Leon Houston's trial in which he was charged, along with his brother, with first degree murder of a Roane County Sheriff's Deputy and a ride-along, ended with a hung jury.

It was a highly charged event with at least four sides to the very complex case. The family of the two slain men sat on one side of the courtroom and the family of the accused sat on the other. Those of us who were undecided sat where we could find room. The fourth side was law enforcement, as the slain men were reputed to be victims of an ambush by the prosecution, and losers of a shoot out that they themselves started, by the defense.

I have no way of knowing for sure, but every eye witness stated that the cops shot first. This was disputed by an FBI agent who testified that one witness, Anne Watts, changed her story from what she stated in his original interview with her at the time of this very tragic event. On the witness stand, Anne Watts made a very credible witness who never wavered from her version of events. The FBI agent, not so much.

This is shocking to me. The FBI agent testified that Watts contradicted herself in his interview. He was asked if the interview was recorded and we heard this...It is FBI policy that interviews are NOT recorded.

What? Why is this? Their policy is that interviews are to be conducted with two agents and no recorders. One agent asks questions and another makes notes, after which the interview narrative is immediately written down and reviewed by both agents.

In Ms. Watts case, it appears that very few notes were taken by the agent and that he did not write them down until several days later, in fact. Here is some of what I have been able to run down concerning policy, which this agent doesn't seem to have adhered to anyway:

In the pursuit of criminals, FBI agents across the nation routinely use DNA tests, fingerprints, ballistics, psychological profiling and the world's most advanced forensic methods.

But a little-known policy at the Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps investigators from using one of the simplest and most effective tools in law enforcement: the tape recorder.

That policy appears in Section 7 of the FBI's "Manual of Investigative Operations and Guidelines": "Use of tape recorders for the purpose of recording the statements of witnesses, suspects and subjects is permissible on a limited, highly selective basis, and only when authorized by the SAC (special agent in charge)."

Standard FBI procedure calls for at least two agents to conduct interrogations: one asking questions and the other taking notes. The notes are used later to produce a typed summary known as Form 302.

When agents testify months or years down the road, they rely on 302s, and memory. As a result, jurors and judges hear recollections and interpretations, not what was actually said. And the defense lawyer often follows up with a cross-examination designed to impugn the agent's memory, competence or integrity.

Critics say the FBI practice leads to botched investigations, lost evidence, unprofessional conduct and damaged credibility for America's justice system.

The Arizona Republic

The full article brings FBI policy into a harsh light. Why would they NOT record interviews? The answer that was told to me by one attorney was, "So they can say anything they want to at trial."

Absurd? Yes! But this leaves the veracity of an FBI Agent's testimony under oath in question. Why would they leave themselves open to such a possibility.

This is brought into an even harsher light when the defense claim of self defense hinges on the actions of the officers and whose testimony you believe.

For me, it renders the FBI agent's testimony highly suspect and essentially worthless as a tool for determining the sequence of events.

When I asked why anyone would talk to the FBI without a recording of the interview, one attorney said, "You don't have anything to gain by talking to them anyway. Don't talk to them."

This saddened me and darkens my view of an organization I have mostly high respect for.



You can read the posts and community comments regarding the Houston's at Use the search function and type "Houstons Trial" into the search box.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:48 PM

    I have been through what you describe. In my case my own attorney showed me the investigators' report, full of lies and significant omissions and told me I would be charged for false statments unless I provided testimony desired by the Feds. I recognized the problems with the report and wanted to show it to another attorney for a second opinion. My attorney told me I could see it but could not get a copy. I asked my attorny if he had an agreement with the prosecutor to withhold the report from me. He responded "not that I recall". Upon seeing my discomfort, he said "I'll check with the prosecutor to see if I have an agreement". Then, for the next ten days he denied having an agreement, saying that he worked "within a framework". I fired him, asked for a copy of my file. The file contained a written agreement with the prosecutor to withhold the report that was dated 10 days after my meeting with my attorney. I refused to perjure myself. I was never charged. They were "just kidding". In my opinion, my attorney and the prosecutor committed the crime of suborning perjury. I describe my experience as having been tortured psychologically.