Many of you remember the sniper-style attacks committed around the Washington DC Beltway area in 2002. Ten people were killed and three others were shot during a three-week period.
Lee Boyd Malvo was 17 at the time he committed the crimes and sentenced to life in prison without parole. John Allen Muhammad, also found guilty, was executed in 2009.
News headlines this week read: Judge overturns life without parole sentence for DC sniper Lee Boyd Malvo. His sentence was thrown out because of his age at the time of the shootings.
Both Muhammad and Malvo’s testimony provide good examples to highlight forensic statement analysis as it relates to deception.
I had nothing to do with it
John Allen Muhammad chose to represent himself during his trial. During his opening statement, he said to the jury:
“The evidence, if we monitor step by step and be patient and listen to it carefully, it will show that I had nothing to do with these crimes.”
He didn’t say, “The evidence will show I was not the shooter” or “The evidence will show someone else was the shooter.” because he couldn’t; that would have been a lie. Instead he said he had “nothing to do with these crimes.” I had nothing to do with is not a true denial. In 2003, he was convicted of capital murder.
An interesting footnote, after O.J. Simpson was taken into custody, the police found a letter he had written that then became known as the “suicide letter.” It starts out: “To Whom it may concern. First everyone understand I had nothing to do with Nicole’s murder.”
After he was arrested, and during police questioning, Lee Boyd Malvo told police he pulled the trigger in all of the sniper attacks that terrified the Washington area. “I intended to kill them all,” said Malvo.
Specifically, when further questioned whether he squeezed the trigger in all the shootings, Malvo first responded:
“Basically, yeah.” Asked to clarify, he said, “In all of them.”
A month later he recanted his testimony that he pulled the trigger in all the shootings. He then said he was only the spotter in all but two. The defense testified that Malvo’s initial statements claiming responsibility occurred while he was still under Muhammad’s influence. He added that if Malvo was lying later it didn’t make sense for him to still admit he was the triggerman in two killings.
Because Muhammad was convicted and subsequently executed, the jury was not convinced that Malvo pulled the trigger in all the shootings.
One thing forensic statement analysis tells us about Malvo’s testimony is that he did not tell the police everything that happened because he used the word “basically.” A better response to the question whether he pulled the trigger in all the shootings would be, “Yes” or “Yeah.”
- When you hear the phrase, “I had nothing to do with it” remember that is not a denial. You’re listening for something that states they did not do what they are accused of doing or being questioned about. (I did not pull the trigger. I didn’t take any money out of your wallet.)
- The next time you hear someone say “basically” know that you’re not getting the whole story or that person isn’t telling you everything they know about the situation.
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As Managing Director of Concealed Statements I work with men and women who want to increase their deception awareness to avoid wasting time or money and avoid making poor decisions based on inaccurate information.