By Aspen Anderson and Mary Murphy
Washington State Journal 

Knox testifies against deceptive police interrogations

Victims push for legislation to stop police from lying during interrogations

 

Last updated 1/17/2024 at 11:59am

Aspen Anderson | Washington State Journal

Washington Innocence Project Executive Director Lara Zarowsky; from left, Ted Bradford, the first person in the state to be exonerated by DNA evidence; and Amanda Knox, a victim of false conviction in Italy testify is support of House Bill 1062.

OLYMPIA - Amanda Knox, the Seattle resident who spent nearly four years in an Italian prison for a murder she did not commit, offered heartfelt testimony Jan. 8 in favor of a bill that would prevent law enforcement officers from using deception during interrogations.

"I was interrogated overnight by police officers who claimed to have evidence against me, who claimed that there were witnesses who could place me at the crime scene," Knox said. "They lied to me. I did not know they could lie to me... These are people who I was raised to believe that I could trust."

Knox was testifying in favor of HB1062, a bill now being debated in the state Legislature. The measure would make any statement determined by the court to be obtained by deception during interrogation to be inadmissible as evidence. Advocates say they think the bill will help prevent false convictions.

The measure was supported by people unjustly convicted of crimes and social activists pressing for reform. It was opposed by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

"Sometimes, it's an unfortunate reality, we have to lie to people to get them to tell the truth," said James McMahan, Policy Director for the sheriffs and police chiefs association. "This is not good public policy in our view. This does not address our ongoing growing crime problem in Washington."

When Knox was just 20, she was subjected to 53 hours of questioning over five days in a foreign language without legal counsel. She was sentenced to 26 years in prison, served four years and then was exonerated after DNA evidence of multiple men was found on the victim's clothing.

"I believe that if I had not been lied to by the police, none of this would have ever happened," Knox said.

Rep. Tarra Simmons, D-Bremerton, is a notable sponsor of the bill. In 2011, Simmons was sentenced to 30 months in prison for theft, drug and firearm crimes and was elected as Washington State's first formerly incarcerated lawmaker.

Also testifying in favor, was Ted Bradford, Washington State's first person to be exonerated by DNA results. He was interrogated for 9.5 hours when he was 22 years old and served 10 years.

"I was told many times that 'you are the person that did this.'" Bradford said. "I knew I was innocent...I thought, just give them a statement, give them what they want now...They'll test that evidence, and this will all be over."

Adding support for the bill was the Washington Innocence Project.

"Criminal investigations are no longer a search for truth, but they are a search for generating material that will lead to a conviction," said Lara Zarowsky, the Executive Director of the Washington Innocence Project, a non-profit organization that supplies free legal and investigative services to those who have been wrongfully convicted.

Certified forensic reviewer David Thompson also testified in favor of this bill. For over four decades, he provided training on interview and interrogation techniques to federal state local law enforcement.

"If we lie about evidence, cameras, fingerprints, DNA, it causes memory distrust. It causes confusion...Why do investigators lie in the first place?" Thompson asked. "It's because the evidence doesn't exist. Otherwise, it wouldn't be deceptive."

Thompson also said he thinks the bill will have broad, positive effects.

"I firmly believe this legislation not only will improve the quality and effectiveness of investigative interviews, but also rebuilds trust and will help resolve cases," Thompson stated.

Julie Barrett, founder of the Conservative Ladies of Washington, argued this legislation is not needed because if a law enforcement officer intentionally uses deception in a custodial interrogation, it is already inadmissible in court.

James Trainum, a retired detective from Washington D.C. Police Department pushed back against that idea.

"Every single case involving a wrongful conviction that had a false confession, that judge ruled that conviction to be admissible," Trainum said.

If the bill is approved, Washington State will be the 10th state to ban deceptive tactics, according to the testimony by Russell Brown, of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. Brown added Washington would be the only state to protect more than just minors from these tactics.

The Washington State Journal is a non-profit news website operated by the WNPA Foundation. To learn more, go to wastatejournal.org.

 

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