Content Analysis of Burke Ramsey Interview with Dr. Phil
By Laurie Ayers
At first glance viewers could be troubled by Burke’s apparent smiling throughout the interview. Don’t be swayed by body language. It’s too subjective with too many variables and open to interpretation. It could be his baseline. There aren’t other interviews to compare it to. It could be nerves. It could be medication. We just don’t know.
The murder took place 20 years ago when he was a kid. He’s now an adult. Because he is not outwardly appearing to behave in a manner one may typically think is appropriate is not a reliable indicator of deception.
His demeanor is smiley throughout most of the interview. If this were a case of “Duper’s Delight” where he feels he is getting one over on Dr. Phil, the grin would not be present the entire time. It would sneak out only during some responses.
Lastly you may have seen photos of Burke as a kid. He has the same smile on his face in most all of those images as well. John (dad) also has what some would consider a smirk on his face during various interviews with him. Point being, don’t assume a certain look means something specific.
Below is my content statement analysis of the interview – using Burke’s own words. It’s quite detailed. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, I encourage you to pause long enough to read the spoiler at the bottom.
Dr. Phil: “People have speculated that you’ve been hiding out for the last 20 years, instead of just choosing not to speak. What do you say to that?”
Burke: “For the last 20 years, I wanted to grow up like a normal kid… which does not include going in front of TV cameras.”
This is a poorly worded question on Dr. Phil’s part.
“What do you say to that?” There’s not a definitive response to that. Whereas if he had asked – “Have you been hiding out?” and then he responded he just wanted to grow up like a normal kid, that would be deceptive language because Dr. Phil’s question would have required a yes or no answer.
Dr. Phil: “After you went to bed, did you hear anything out of the ordinary at all during night?”
Dr. Phil: “You don’t recall waking up, hearing anything in retrospect?”
Again, these are poorly worded questions.
“Did you hear anything out of the ordinary?” We don’t know what was ordinary in that household for Burke to hear. He could be answering no, to nothing out of the ordinary.
The second question is a compound question – Do you recall waking up [and Do you recall] hearing anything. We don’t know what Burke is answering no to. First he was asked if he heard anything out of the ordinary? Then he was asked if he recalls waking up and then lastly if he recalls hearing anything [at all].
Dr. Phil: “Do you remember waking up that morning?”
Burke: “Yup. The first thing I remember is my mom bursting into my room really frantic, saying ‘Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh’. Running around my room looking for JonBenet. At that point I was awake.”
Even though when he was just asked if he recalled waking up and hearing anything, he said No.
Burke: “She left… and I could kind of hear her freaking out. And the next thing I remember is a police officer coming in my room and shining a flashlight.”
The words “kind of” tell us that Burke didn’t necessarily hear his mom freaking out. It weakens his statement about what transpired that morning. “I could hear her freaking out” is a more supportive statement.
Words that span time. Look for gaps in the story. Phrases that indicate the subject has skipped over something in his statement such as later, after a while, after, the next thing I remember.
Dr. Phil: “It was still dark?”
Burke: “Ya, I was just laying there.”
Dr. Phil: “How long from the time she came in, before the police came in?”
Burke: “Under an hour.“
That seems very specific for a then-nine year old to remember twenty years later.
Dr. Phil: “After she left, what did you do?”
Burke: “I just laid there. I didn’t really know what else to do.”
The word “just” is often used to minimize things. When the word “just” is used to minimize a person’s actions it is an indication more things transpired than what the person is telling us.
The word “just” is not needed in this sentence. However, Burke needed to use this word because he wants us to believe all he did that morning was lie in bed after his mom came in his room frantically looking for his sister. He used the word “just” to minimize his actions. The use of the word “just” indicates he may have done some other things besides stay in bed while there was chaos around him. Because he knows other actions transpired caused him to unknowingly use the word “just.”
The word “really” indicates Burke did know what else to do. The word “really” is a word that indicates untruthfulness. Burke would have been better off not using the word “really” and keeping the sentence short; “I didn’t know what else to do.”
Then Dr. Phil talks about how odd it is to him that all this is going on and he just lies in bed, doesn’t get up, doesn’t question what is going on. No direct question to Burke.
Burke: “I guess I kind of like to .. to avoid conflict, er.. a.. I don’t know I guess I just … felt safer there?”
Kind of weakens his statement. First he says he stayed in bed because he didn’t really know what else to do. Then he said he stayed in bed because he likes to avoid conflict. Then he said he stayed in bed because he “just” felt safer there. His voice also goes up at the end of ‘felt safer there.’ As if to ask a question, rather than make a statement.
Dr. Phil: “Were you curious?” (past tense)
Burke: “I’m not the worry type. I’m not the .. I guess part of me doesn’t want to know what’s going on.”
He is also using present tense language to answer questions about what happened in the past. I like to avoid conflict. I am not the worry type. I am not the … part of me does not want to know what is going on. When recalling what happened in the past, if relying on memory, the story will be told in past tense. If there is no memory and it’s being made up, then it will be told in present tense.
Dr. Phil: “Critics would say you weren’t curious because you already knew. You didn’t have to get up to check because you already knew exactly what happened.”
Burke: “I was scared, I think.” I mean I didn’t know if there was some bad guy downstairs that my dad was chasing off with a … gun, er you know, I had no idea.”
In determining if a person is being deceptive, look for several deceptive indicators within the statement. In Burke’s interview, we also saw that he used an unusual phrase and he did not commit to his statement when he said, “I was scared, I think.”
By using the phrase “you know,” Burke wants us to assume we knew why he was too scared to get out of bed. However, we assume nothing. We only believe what people tell us. A better statement would have been to say, “I was scared. I didn’t know if there was a bad guy downstairs that my dad was chasing off with his gun.”
He said he didn’t know if his dad was chasing off a bad guy with a gun. That’s an unusual thing to say unless he knew that his dad owned a gun. If that was the case, then he would have said his gun. His gun would mean familiarity and ownership. A gun is distancing language, unfamiliar, just any random gun, not taking ownership of the gun nor the statement.
Dr. Phil: “So, who came and got you eventually?”
Burke: “I think it was my dad that came in.”
Dr. Phil: “You do go downstairs. Describe that scene.”
Burke: “I just remember like, I … I have an image in my head of the kitchen. And, it was early morning. There were a few people around that I didn’t really know. There might have been a police car, I think. I just kind of remember walking slowly downstairs and everyone was like, “Hey we’re going to take you to Fleet’s [family friend].”
Notice the order of events. When it’s coming from memory it’s easy to tell chronologically what happened in order. When there’s no memory of it, events and actions can be out of order. He was downstairs, remembers seeing the kitchen and people, and a police car [outside or in the driveway or on the street], then he says he was slowing walking downstairs to hear everyone talk about him going to Fleet’s.
Dr. Phil: “Were you scared for JonBenet yet?”
Burke: “I think I was trying to be positive.”
Trying means attempted by failed. Didn’t answer the question directly if he was scared for his sister.
Dr. Phil: “Do you remember them asking you if you knew what happened to your sister?”
Burke: “I told the guy, I was like, ahhh, you know, she’s probably hiding somewhere. Did you check the whole house? Er maybe she’s outside er…”
Dr. Phil: When was the next time you saw your parents?”
Burke: “The next thing I remember I was going to another one of our friends’ houses. Everyone was really sad over there. My dad came and told me JonBenet’s in Heaven now. Then he started crying. Anddddd thennnnn, I started crying.”
Remember, phrases with gaps in time such as the next thing I remember indicate the subject has skipped over something.
Dr. Phil: “So you go from thinking she’s been kidnapped, to she’s been found. To she’s actually dead. To she’s in Heaven. Your dad tells you.”
Burke: “My dad just said, ‘She’s in Heaven now.’ I was like… how’s that possible? Like…[confused look].”
Dr. Phil: “Have you seen it [the ransom note]? Have you read it?”
Burke: “I don’t think I’ve read the whole thing. I’ve definitely seen pictures of it. I feel like the “Listen Carefully!” is very distinct and I’ve never really seen that. I never really looked at it closely because I’ll see it and kind of … get taken aback. It’s not really something I want to look at a whole lot, you know?”
Dr. Phil: “Does that look like her handwriting?”
Burke: “[laugh] Honestly … she would always bug me about having good handwriting and that does not look like … she would always get me to rewrite things to have good handwriting. I think that’s too sloppy.”
There are several words and phrases that indicate a person is being untruthful. People will sometimes use this deceptive language to bolster their statement in an effort to convince you they are being truthful. However, these words and phrases usually weaken the statement. Some of those words and phrases: Honestly, frankly, to be honest, to tell you the truth, and I swear. There are other similar untruthful words.
He didn’t answer the question.
Side note: Evidence has been reported that there was a practice ransom note written before the actual note was rewritten.
Dr. Phil: “Have you ever heard the 911 call?”
Burke: “Oh… It’s been brought up a bunch of times…because they think I’m on it or something.”
He didn’t answer the question.
Dr. Phil: “Police investigators say that your voice was heard at the end of the 911 call. Where were you when that phone call was made?
Burke: “I was in my bed.”
Dr. Phil: “How do you know?”
Burke: “I… I don’t remember getting up until my dad came in there.”
I don’t remember [doing that] is not the same as saying I know I did not do that.
Dr. Phil: “It’s also been speculated that your dad can be heard saying, ‘We’re not speaking to you’.”
Burke: “Definitely don’t remember that. Unless someone erased my memory or something [laugh].
He doesn’t remember his dad saying that during the 911 call. That’s not the same as saying I was in bed when the 911 call was made. There’s also no pronoun “I definitely don’t remember” Absence of a pronoun is not taking ownership for the statement.
Dr. Phil: “So you can say with absolute certainty that is not your voice on the 911 call?”
Burke: “Absolutely not.”
This is another poorly worded a question. What is he saying “Absolutely not” to? Absolutely he cannot say that? Dr. Phil only asked him to say with absolute certainty that wasn’t his voice. That is not the same as asking him if it was his voice. A better question would have been, “How can you explain the investigators hearing your voice?” Then being quiet to listen to his explanation.
Dr. Phil: “Did you hit your sister over the head with a baseball bat or a flashlight?”
Burke: “Absolutely not.”
Here we again see the response of Absolutely not. The only true denial is to say I did not do it. I did not kill JonBenet. I didn’t hit her with a baseball bat or flashlight. Simply stating “Absolutely not” isn’t enough. It doesn’t have any pronouns for ownership (I didn’t do it) and it doesn’t deny anything specifically in his own words. He’s merely responding to what Dr. Phil prompted him to say a short bit ago – can you say with absolute certainty… Because of the poorly worded question, there’s no way of knowing if he’s being deceptive or answering exactly the question posed to him.
Dr. Phil: “Did you ever hit her with the train tracks?”
Burke: “No. I …” [then interrupted by Dr. Phil]
We have no way of knowing what else he was going to say next because Dr. Phil cut him off.
Dr. Phil: “You never poked her with the train tracks?”
Burke: “No. [laughs]. The moment you said that I was like ‘How would I even do that?’ Nah. I never did anything like that.”
How would I, is not a denial. It’s not the same as saying I did not poke her with the train tracks. It’s speculation as to how he would do it if he were to do it.
I never did anything like that. The word “never” does not mean “no.” Therefore, you cannot substitute the word “never” for the word “no.” However, deceptive people will sometimes use the word “never” when making a denial. “I never did anything like that.” He initially said No. Then all the extra words are used to try to convince.
Using the word “ever” when asking a question gives the deceptive subject an opportunity to answer using the word “never.” Therefore, you should avoid using the word “ever.” Sometimes you can simply remove this word from the question; “Did you hit her with the train tracks?”
If a person states, “I never did anything like that.” He has not denied the specific allegation. It only sounds like a denial. Anything “like that” is not a denial. He may not have poked her with the train tracks. We don’t know for certain because he never specifically tells us, but he may have done something similar (like that).
Dr. Phil: “Experts have said they suspected she was sexually abused. You never heard of, thought, suspected … you never saw anything that ..?”
Burke: “Absolutely nothing.”
Are you starting to see a pattern with the poorly worded questions? You never heard of, thought… is leading and again, with the word “Never.” A better way to word that would have been, “Did you hear, think, suspect or see any sexual abuse?” That is a question that requires a yes or a no response. We don’t know for certain what he is responding to with ‘Absolutely nothing. Burke continues:
“I definitely [inaudible] believe that somebody was sexually abusing her, in any way. “
Words such as absolutely, definitely, emphatically, can fall under the same category of untruthful words like frankly, honestly, certainly. They’re extra words and often used to try to be convincing, but what they do is weaken the statement. In many of Burke’s “Absolutely Not”. “Definitely Not”. Statements he has removed the pronoun of I. He is trying to remove himself from the question or situation. Absolutely not, is not the same as saying “I did not see any signs of abuse.”
Dr. Phil: “There are people who believe you killed your sister. What do you say to that?”
Burke: “Where’s the evidence? Or lack thereof?”
Dr. Phil: “There have been some who said that you did it because you are the only person your parents would go to such length to cover up. They already lost one child and they didn’t want to lose another. What do you say to that?”
Burke: “I don’t know what to say to that, because I know that’s not what happened. There’s been a few people who’ve said that’s not even physically possible for a 9 year old to do that. Like you won’t find any evidence. Because that’s not what happened. I know I didn’t do it.”
What he can say to that is I did not kill JonBenet. You won’t find any evidence is not a denial.
Dr. Phil: “Did you do anything to harm your sister, JonBenet?”
Not the best question – do anything to harm is not specific enough. In his mind he may think that she fell or she caused it so he can say no to the question did you do anything to harm.
Dr. Phil: “Did you do anything to murder your sister, JonBenet?”
Same as above. If he did kill her, or if she died while they were together he may not consider it murder so he could answer No.
Dr. Phil: “Do you have any knowledge of who did murder your sister, JonBenet?”
Burke: “I always kind of thought it a pedophile who saw her at one of the pageants. [inaudible] But who knows?”
He never answers the question if he has any knowledge. Always kind of thought – An absolute (always) with a non-committal (kind of). Instead of deflecting a truthful/better response would have been, “No, I don’t have any knowledge of who murdered by sister.”
Dr. Phil: “Did you witness anything that night that over the last 20 years you have kept a secret?”
Burke: “No. I don’t know anything more than what everyone else already knows.”
Dr. Phil: “Is there anything you want to set the record straight on?”
Burke: “I mean the obvious one is that I killed my sister and my parents killed my sister. And people still can’t get that in their head that we didn’t do it.”
Similarly, in OJ Simpson’s book he wrote: “I am grateful that even those who believe in my guilt also believe that I should have my day in court and have agreed to let their words be published in this book.”
Most people would say something like, “I am grateful that even those who believe I am guilty.” If worded this way it is saying that if people think he is guilty that’s their opinion. In OJ’s statement above, the emphasis is on my guilt. The pronoun my is a possessive pronoun. It is as if he is talking about something he has already established: his guilt. That was his day in court (my day in court) and that was also his guilt (my guilt).
Now after seeing that about Simpson’s own words, take another look at Burke’s response when asked if he had he wanted to set the record straight on, the first thing he said was: “I mean the obvious one is that I killed my sister and my parents killed my sister.
People mean what they say; use their words to uncover deception.