False Memories

Dingo667

Justified & Ancient
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#61
This is a strange one as I still think it may have happened but it sounds too redicoulus.
When I was about 2 1/2 or 3 yrs old, a lady my mum had met on holiday cam eto visit us (that is true) and she brought her two daughters with her (also true, they were about 4 and 5). They started combing my long hair with a comb, which really hurt (still true) but here comes the weird bit.
We lived on the 7th floor and I remember clearly that they dangled me out of that balcony, so that they only held my ankles. I can almost feel the wall, I held onto and thought that "this is the end". When they "fished" me back up again, I ran to my mum and told her, upon which she threw them out.
I am in two minds about this. It sounds too silly to be true but I have the feeling it really happened. My mum can't remember.
 
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#62
Vol. 10 No. 01 September 10 - 16, 2004

Memory & Manipulation

The trials of Elizabeth Loftus, defender of the wrongly accused

by Sasha Abramsky



On the wall of Professor Elizabeth Loftus’ third-floor UC Irvine office is a paper bull’s-eye target, pockmarked with bullet holes. If it looks somewhat incongruous in the mostly sedate academic surroundings—bookshelves lined with psychology texts, a large desk with a black Dell computer and stylish flat screen, a mock Vanity Fair cover with Loftus’ face staring out from atop Demi Moore’s body (a humorous gift from students), and photocopies of Andy Warhol’s Mick Jagger portraits—there’s good reason. Loftus—who, when she pulls her blue straw hat over her mussed shoulder-length brown hair and stands up in black-velvet pants and cotton blouse, looks startlingly like Diane Keaton in Annie Hall—took up target practice in 1994 after receiving death threats following the publication of her book The Myth of Repressed Memory. "We’re going to kill the bitch" was one choice missive. The holes in the paper, Loftus says, laughing nervously as she recalls the events, were made on the firing range.

Target practice aside, Loftus’ work veers into an X-Files-type reality where nothing is as it seems, where even the inner sanctum of an individual’s most personal memories is subject to manipulations and falsification. We think of that sanctum as a citadel invulnerable to outside pressures. Loftus tells us that, to the contrary, it is a marshland crisscrossed with paths, instantly imprinted by the footprints of all those who traverse it.

Beth Loftus grew up in a house on Santa Monica Boulevard. And while she has spent much of her adult life away from the place of her birth, she has always been drawn back to the city where things are not always what they seem, where humans—the storytelling species—have perfected the art of illusion. The allure is appropriate given that Loftus specializes in studying the malleability of, the fallibility of, human memory and given that she has spent a lifetime exploring the strange nether regions of the mind where fact and fantasy, reality and distortion, blend into new versions of "the truth."

Recently, three decades into her influential career as a research psychologist and memory expert in legal cases, Loftus, in her early 50s and recently divorced, returned to Southern California after several years at the University of Washington in Seattle. Now ensconced at UCI’s department of psychology and social behavior, as well as its criminology department, she lives in a modest faculty house. A framed panoramic oil painting of the early-20th-century wooden house overlooking Lake Washington in which she lived until 2002 hangs on her hallway wall, copied from a photograph by a man she believes to be wrongfully imprisoned and whose cause she has championed.

Somewhat ironically, her return was a side effect of research work investigating the veracity behind the allegations at the heart of a high-profile Jane Doe child-abuse case. She eventually co-authored an article about the case with University of Michigan psychologist Mel Guyer—from which stemmed a lawsuit against the authors, the university, the journal in which the article appeared and the organization that publishes the journal—but first Jane Doe filed an ethics complaint against Loftus with the University of Washington. Though the university eventually cleared Loftus of breaking research protocols—after seizing all of her files on the case and preventing her from publishing her work for almost two years—its support was so lukewarm and its unwillingness to stand by its controversial psychologist during the current lawsuit so clear that Loftus was only too happy to accept an offer from UCI.

For the past many months, Loftus, who herself has served as an expert witness in more than 250 cases since 1975, has been preparing to go to trial. It is a battle for personal survival as much as for her professional reputation—never mind that she was recently elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences as well as listed by the Review of General Psychology as one of the 20th century’s Top 100 psychologists. "I’m so proud of what I’ve done," Loftus states defiantly. "I’ll fight to the bitter end." Over the past year, the lawsuit has been wending its way toward the trial stage. If she loses, not only will academic freedom have arguably suffered a grievous blow, but also on a personal level, Loftus herself could face bankruptcy.

In early 2003, Loftus gave a lecture in Hollywood, at the Center for Inquiry West, a venue run by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims for the Paranormal (CSICOP) that specializes in casting skeptical eyes over discussions about paranormal, and otherwise scientifically dubious, or unprovable, happenings: UFO sightings, alien abductions, crop circles, that sort of thing. "Preconceived ideas and the accuracy of memory are factors that always seem to come into play, at least with these anecdotal beliefs we investigate," explains Jim Underdown, the center’s executive director, hinting at the strange interplay of cultural beliefs and sensory input that goes into molding complex memories. "The fact that memories are so plastic and changeable, if a memory can be introduced, then that becomes a serious issue and a serious aspect of an investigation. Even if somebody is telling the truth, it may be they’re telling the truth about a false memory—about something that didn’t happen."

Loftus told her audience about a case she had recently investigated, a famous Jane Doe case, in which a messy divorce and child-custody battle had ended with the biological mother being accused by her six-year-old daughter of having sexually abused her earlier in her life. Following the accusations, custody was awarded to the girl’s father and his new wife. Over the years, the young girl lost all memory of the "abuse"; then, nearly 11 years later, the doctor who had interviewed her after the initial abuse claims re-interviewed her. At that point, the 17-year-old suddenly recalled detailed abuse episodes. Touted by repressed-memory specialists as one of the most celebrated cases in the literature, Jane Doe’s story—which had been written about with her consent by the specialist who conducted the interviews—had long struck Loftus as resting on extremely shaky foundations. Was it possible, she wondered, that the six-year-old child had been coached by her father and his wife to issue the initial allegations, that she had quickly "forgotten" the abuse because it hadn’t in fact occurred, and that years later she had "recalled" false events at the prompting of the specialists who interviewed her?

Loftus and a colleague from the University of Michigan began interviewing all the key players in the events—including the biological mother and the stepmother, whom Loftus came to believe had helped the child to recall the abuse episodes. Eventually, they concluded the abuse had never occurred and that the memories, which over the years and decades had come to represent a defining event in Jane Doe’s life, were, while powerful, in fact entirely false.

In the summer of 2002, Loftus and her colleague published an article on their findings in Skeptical Inquirer magazine, a journal run by CSICOP. It was provocatively titled Who Abused Jane Doe? The Hazards of the Single Case History. Now, in early 2003, she was speaking before an audience at the Center, reiterating some of these oil-thrown-on-fire conclusions.

Not long afterward, in May of that year, Loftus and her colleague (as well as her editor and friend) psychologist Carol Tavris, the Center and the magazine were named as co-defendants in a civil lawsuit — Taus v. Loftus—filed by Jane Doe at the Solano County Superior Court in Northern California. Doe, by then a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, was suing them for violations of her privacy—even though, until the lawsuit was filed, her identity (Nicole Taus) had been kept entirely out of the public domain. "Dr. Loftus and/or her co-author apparently spent quite a bit of time talking to people, including my client’s biological mother," Taus’ attorney, Julian Hubbard, of the Redwood City law firm of McCloskey, Hubbard, Ebert and Moore, explains. "Talking about her and soliciting information about her private life—obtaining her medical records and obtaining information about her when she was growing up that has nothing to do with what she [Loftus] was writing about." Hubbard claims that Loftus went beyond the bounds of academic research by "befriending" Jane Doe’s mother to the point where she would provide a willing audience for poetry the mother had written, by coaching her to believe she had not abused her daughter decades earlier, and by attempting to forge a reconciliation between mother and child.

Not surprisingly, Loftus’ side sees things somewhat differently. They argue that Doe’s privacy was always protected until she, herself, nullified it by going to court and seeking financial damages against the defendants. The lawsuit, says Loftus’ attorney, Tom Burke, "revealed who she [Jane Doe] was, where she went to high school, where she grew up. What’s really frustrating here is not only did she apparently consent to the original publication of her case history when she was young, but also later on in life, when she was interviewed 10 years later by Dr. [David] Corwin [the psychologist who popularized her story], she consented again." Then, after Loftus’ article was published, Corwin received Jane Doe’s consent one more time to use her case history in arguing against Loftus’ ideas on the dangers of believing in recovered memories.

In other words, Loftus’ team believes that Jane Doe, who did not respond to requests (issued through her attorney) to comment for this article, was fine with her story being used as long as those using it uncritically accepted the reality of her memories.

Yet increasingly, memory experts such as Loftus have been proving that not only is memory unreliable, but it can also be so utterly manipulated as to render it next to useless as pivotal evidence in criminal cases. If Taus wins her lawsuit, says attorney Burke, frustrated in an attempt several months back to have the case summarily dismissed, "it would set a very dangerous precedent. If you have someone who’s simply trying to contribute to an understanding of the data, if those views are silenced, you can’t do what needs to be done."

It’s no secret that in recent years, numerous men and women have been released from prison after new DNA evidence cleared them of crimes for which they were convicted entirely on the basis of eyewitness testimony. In New York, Barry Scheck’s Innocence Project has created a cottage industry out of using new technologies to expose such miscarriages of justice. But despite high-profile cases such as the release from Illinois’ death row of several prisoners after journalism students at Northwestern University investigated their stories and proved their innocence, we like to think of these cases as unfortunate aberrations blemishing a system that, in the main, works to protect the innocent. Loftus challenges this reassuring assumption.

In an era where social panics—around sexual abuse, drug use and, more recently, terrorism in particular—have led all too many Americans to abandon the assumptions of innocence that theoretically underlie our criminal-justice system, Beth Loftus is a voice of caution. Like Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men, she is a holdout against our willingness to equate an accusation with guilt and our tendency to damn people on hearsay rather than genuine, verifiable evidence. Fighting the memory wars, for Loftus, has gone beyond the confines of the academy; it has become a battle for the credibility of America’s justice system.

In essence, Loftus says that our memories can lie and that when coaxed in one direction by people we trust (family members, therapists, police officers asking us to identify perps from a series of mug shots), all too often we can "remember" events that did not happen and see people at the scene of a crime who in fact were not actually there. While these false memories can be about almost anything, in the past couple of decades, they have had an impact on the criminal-justice scene, most notably around the theme of "recovered" memories of instances of sexual abuse alleged to have occurred years or decades previously. Lacking any physical evidence, these cases hinge solely on the word of the alleged victim, their legal viability reliant entirely on the willingness of prosecutors, judge and jury to accept the allegations at face value. Yet so traumatizing are these "memories," these images of shattered and violated childhoods that swim up to the surface years later, often while the "victim" is undergoing counseling with an unlicensed therapist, that few are willing to challenge their validity and to further devastate already desperately depressed individuals—and as a result, too often men and women have been prosecuted solely on the basis of such "memories" or, if not prosecuted, have had their reputations and family relationships destroyed.

What drives Loftus is not, as her detractors believe, a perverted desire to keep sexual predators free to wreak havoc on young innocents, but rather a passionate belief that during social hysterias, the presumption of innocence becomes subsumed under a tidal wave of lock-’em-all-up-and-throw-away-the-key rhetoric. And that during such hysterias, finger pointing by those who really have been victimized is enough to convict the innocent and guilty alike, while at the same time, finger pointing by those who have never been victimized is also enough to doom the accused. Suffused with a sense of history, Loftus is haunted by the ghosts of the Salem witch trials from more than three centuries ago. Combine sloppy police work, the pressure to identify and convict high-profile criminals at any cost, and intense pressure put on suspects during interrogations to own up to—to remember—committing certain acts, and, Loftus argues, all the ingredients are present for grievous miscarriages of justice.

"I was getting pretty upset about this," she says. "I’d see people convicted I believed were innocent, and it would keep me awake at night. There is a problem with faulty memory—it’s the major cause of wrongful convictions in this country. We’re living in a world where there’s a temptation to believe every accusation of abuse, no matter how dubious it may be, and sexual abuse seems to have a privileged status, which makes it all the more special. Obviously there’s real child sex abuse, and there are adults who were abused as children—as I was," Loftus says softly and way too matter-of-factly. For a woman who has been accused for years of defending pedophiles and other dangerous predators, it’s a pretty large bombshell to just drop into the conversation. But after hesitating a while, she begins to explain. It turns out that Loftus herself recalls being sexually molested by a family acquaintance when she was a young girl. "I was maybe six. I always remembered it. The first person I told was my former husband, when I was in my 20s. It was definitely sort of embarrassing. I remember him [the acquaintance] scratching my arm and telling me certain things—like where babies came from. The one worst thing I remember is when he pulled his pants down and laid me on top of him—and I squirmed my way off him."

The difference between the abuse she remembers suffering and the "repressed memories" of so many other alleged victims, Loftus argues, is that she never "repressed" her experience; it never lay dormant and utterly outside of her consciousness from the moment it allegedly occurred until, years later, it was coaxed out into the open again by a therapist trying to find the source of a patient’s adult discomforts. Instead, throughout her childhood, the memories kept resurfacing, sometimes in bizarre ways. When she turned 13, for example, and her period didn’t arrive, somehow she decided that maybe her abuser’s actions all those years ago had put her into a state of permanent pregnancy.

"I’m pretty aware of the fact there are some creepy people out there—from my own experience," Loftus explains. "But all the people who get harmed by the uncritical acceptance of every accusation—there’s a whole bunch of people who get hurt, including the real victims, who get trivialized. You can’t be raped for 10 years and not remember it. Yet according to the repression aficionados, anything’s possible."

Just ask Pamela Freyd of the Philadelphia-based False Memory Syndrome Foundation. FMSF, on whose scientific and professional advisory board Loftus sits, was founded in 1992 to provide advice to those accused in repressed-memory cases. "We’ve been contacted by 22,000 families," says Freyd, a retired teacher whose own family was rent apart by an abuse allegation from her 33-year-old daughter in 1991. "There was a growing problem for some families who had adult children who had suddenly and inexplicably accused them of abuse—abuse they had had no awareness of till, as adults, they entered therapy. These were families with good relationships. Therapists used hypnosis, sodium amenthol, guided imagery, dream interpretation, relaxation exercises. These are very dangerous techniques to use if undertaken in the expectation you can excavate historically accurate memories."

Wisconsin attorney Bill Smoler, who represents several accused families in repressed-memory cases, recalls one instance in which a young woman entered therapy and "began a journey into believing she was raped by her father, grandfather, uncle, brother, two cousins and three members of the clergy—and had repressed all of these memories." Ultimately, it emerged that the woman had severe multiple-personality disorder, and after she died, Smoler sued her therapist on behalf of her parents for malpractice as well as for damages because of the hurt done to the family. In 2000, a jury awarded the deceased woman’s estate and her family more than million.

Back in Southern California, a 79-year-old onetime marriage, family and child counselor, who asked that her name not be used, explained how in the late 1980s, her then-41-year-old daughter entered therapy and began recalling images that started with a memory of her mother inserting scissors into her vagina and gradually built up to a point at which she decided her parents were Satanists who had killed and eaten babies in her presence. Nobody was ever charged in the case, but the family in question was, naturally, completely devastated.

Others were not so lucky. In her books on repressed-memory cases, Loftus details the experiences of many individuals who were charged with sexually abusing their children solely on the basis of recovered-memory testimony. Many of these men and women spent months in jail awaiting trial; others ultimately were sentenced to years in prison—all without a shred of physical evidence ever being presented.

Over the years, Loftus’ work has generated many followers. But others have responded with the kind of venom rarely seen within the confines of academia. Her friend Carol Tavris—who herself tasted a little of the fury after she published a famous New York Times Book Review article in 1993 titled "Beware the Incest-Survivor Machine"—jokes that they have both been caricatured as "evil pedophile psychologists from hell." Their critics range from rival memory experts, such as Jane Doe’s champion, David Corwin, to an array of therapists, victims of child abuse, and those who, for whatever reason, feel betrayed by those around them and hold Loftus and Tavris personally responsible for their ills. A quick Google search reveals hostile Internet correspondence, angry radio-show transcripts and high-octane commentary against Loftus from around the world. And then, of course, there are the aforementioned death threats.

"Once I started being skeptical of those repressed-memory accusers and the therapists who helped them get this way," Loftus says, her voice tinged with an emotion somewhere between resignation and bewilderment, "the hate mail began flowing in."

Yet Loftus’ work goes well beyond the veracity of sex-abuse claims. While she made a name for herself as a memory expert defending those she believed to be wrongly accused, her work increasingly highlights the rough edges of memory in a host of different situations. Take a high-profile case in which the guilt or innocence of a defendant revolves almost entirely around eyewitness testimony or memories recalled by defendants during police interrogation, and the chances are pretty good that Beth Loftus’ name will show up somewhere in the proceedings. These cases include the celebrated McMartin and Dale Akiki kiddie-abuse cases from the 1980s, in which allegations of day-care providers systematically abusing their young charges led to a national panic about youngsters being ritualistically abused by those hired to care for them, and the Holly Ramona case, which spawned a generation of repressed-memory allegations. (Ramona was a student at UCI who went into therapy and "recovered" very vivid but ultimately false memories of being repeatedly raped by her father while she was a young girl. Eventually, in 1994, in a case written up by Moira Johnston in her book Spectral Evidence, the father successfully sued the therapist for malpractice for implanting the false memories in his daughter’s mind.) Loftus has even testified in the Ted Bundy trial, as well as in the Hillside Strangler, O.J. Simpson and Rodney King cases in LA—she argued that the video of the police beating King didn’t capture the entirety of the event, yet likely shaped the firsthand memories of those called to give testimony in the trial. More recently, Loftus has served as a behind-the-scenes consultant in some of the church-abuse sagas around the country, trying to work out which allegations have merit and which are coattails claims.

Look carefully and Loftus also appears as a consultant for the defense in the federal trial of Texas Tech professor Thomas Butler, a bioterrorism and bubonic-plague expert. He was accused of illegally importing vials of plague from Africa, contacting the FBI after several dozen vials went missing, and then, after three days of interrogation, admitting that, while he had no memory of the events, he might have accidentally destroyed the vials himself. Loftus argued that even an absent-minded and aging professor would remember if he had destroyed such an integral part of his own work. In the end, the jurors agreed and acquitted the 62-year-old Butler on the most serious charges.

In a simple conference room in one of UCI’s 1960s-era tower blocs, Loftus and her students, who are for some reason overwhelmingly female, devise experiments to show just how manipulable memories can be. While they don’t seek to replicate alien-abduction experiences or to insert images of sexual abuse into the minds of those never abused—even if they were unethical enough to want to attempt such experiments, they would never in a million years receive permission from the university to do so—they do seek to create an array of other memories of events that never occurred.

In an extra-credit homework assignment, for example, Loftus’ students went home and said to younger siblings things as simple as "Hey, do you remember the time you got lost in the mall when you were five years old?" and then recorded the ways in which the "memory" would take on a life of its own in the succeeding days, becoming more vivid, more detailed, with each conversation. At a more advanced level, using research subjects in a lab, students successfully created memories of mildly traumatic childhood experiences—such as being temporarily separated from one’s parents—that never actually occurred. One student even managed to generate a series of false memories in her research subjects about being licked on the ear by a Pluto character while visiting Disneyland decades earlier. In another experiment, to make sure they were dealing with false recollections rather than real ones, research assistants created memories about meeting Bugs Bunny at Disneyland, who in reality couldn’t possibly have been in the theme park. The purpose of these mind games is to show that even the most vivid memory is not necessarily an accurate representation of past reality.

Not long ago, actor Alan Alda visited Loftus’ lab while researching a television documentary on memory. Before he visited the lab, Loftus’ team had Alda fill in a questionnaire about his eating history since childhood. Over the course of the morning Alda was in the lab, Loftus and her students then implanted a false memory in his head, subtly convincing him that a computer analysis of his questionnaire had determined that he had gotten sick from eating bad hard-boiled eggs when he was a young boy. Later, when they took the actor out for a picnic—a photograph of the event is tacked up on Loftus’ office cork board—they monitored his food choices and, sure enough, he avoided the hard-boiled eggs they offered him.

Loftus’ Irvine colleague Michael Rugg, an expert in the physiology of memory, believes that physiologically the same brain regions are activated when someone answers "yes" to something that is true as when someone answers "yes" to something that he believes to be true but that is actually false. In other words, physiologically, the truth is less important than an individual’s perception of the truth. Ultimately, perhaps, it is this blending of interior and exterior realities that creates uniquely human forms of memory—that renders our minds forever different from those of the binary strings at the center of computer hard drives, that makes our vision of the world, our interaction with the world over time, so different from that of machines designed to manifest artificial intelligence.

Among the more bizarre examples of the tricks memory can play is the rash of vivid alien-abduction stories that has intrigued scientists and ufologists for several decades. While some experts accept at face value stories of men and women being removed from their beds in the middle of the night, taken aboard spaceships, being experimented upon and even made to have sexual intercourse with alien beings, most memory specialists have a somewhat different explanation. Harvard experimental-psychopathology professor Richard McNally, for example, has run two studies on alien abductees. He found that most reported a form of sleep paralysis known in the profession as hypnopompic episodes—essentially a state, experienced by up to 30 percent of the population at some point in their lives, when the body is physically asleep, part of the mind is still dreaming, but another part of the mind is conscious of being awake—and that most, while certainly not psychotic, did have a strong tendency toward beliefs outside of the mainstream. "They’re not lying," McNally says of their experiences. "They’re really sincere. They are, however, characterized by a range of New Age beliefs, by magical ideation—they tend to believe in past lives, crystals, reincarnation, alternative medicines. Second, they’re high on absorption—they can become entranced by a sunset, absorbed in a novel, they had imaginary playmates as children."

Like many of the people in the sexual-abuse cases, most of the alien abductees McNally interviewed did not actually remember, at the time of awakening from their hypnopompic episode, that they had been abducted. What they did feel was intense discomfort; many then sought the help of therapists or counselors—under whose tutelage they began to "remember" that they had been abducted and experimented upon while in this strange state. In a different cultural context, the same individuals would likely have recalled being visited by witches, ghosts or Satan. "Under the suggestive questioning of clinicians," McNally states, "these individuals’ minds are generating very powerful explanatory frameworks—under the guise of memory—for their sleep paralysis. They’re very resistant to reinterpretation." Soon, such "memories" become an integral part of the individual’s self-identity—"I am an alien-abductee survivor"—and physiologically, the alien abductees, when asked to relive their experiences, respond in much the same way (sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, facial muscle tensions) as do traumatized war veterans.

Those who cling to "recovered" memories of long-ago childhood sexual abuse—many of whom, says Loftus, also have a tendency to vibrant visual imagination, are somewhat suggestible in the presence of more extroverted personalities (such as therapists) and tend to have problems concentrating—are likewise invested in the reality of their claims. In both instances, says McNally, psychological problems lead to therapy, which leads to hypnotic regression, which leads to "false memories that explain the original problem." Maybe that’s why Jane Doe reacted so furiously when Loftus and a colleague challenged the veracity of her story. It wasn’t just that strangers were snooping around her past; those same strangers were actually, in effect, telling the world that the adult Jane Doe might not have as valid an excuse for perceived adult neuroses and problems as she believed she had.

Maybe that’s also why many therapists have also reacted so furiously to Loftus’ work. One female therapist sat down next to her on an airplane a few years back and, when in the course of casual conversation she found out whom she was sitting next to, got so angry that she hit Loftus over the head with a rolled-up newspaper, saying over and over again, "You’re that woman."

Loftus, says Tavris, "makes people question, even if they don’t know they’re questioning, the explanation they’ve lived with for so long. She’s telling doctors they’re killing women because they’re not washing their hands. The venom in the clinical world to Beth is in direct relation to how defensive she makes them feel. Beth is questioning some of the basic principles on which people are earning their livelihoods. People don’t like that."

Now Loftus is getting ready to defend herself in court. Like many of the cases in which she has testified over the decades, Taus v. Loftus has the potential to once again remake the ground rules in the memory wars. Win or lose, however, Loftus has already succeeded in highlighting the legal system’s overreliance on uncorroborated eyewitness testimony. "I think I’ve really helped people to understand the malleable nature of memory," Loftus says. "When I help save one innocent person, I feel really good about it."

Recently, Loftus tells me, she got a call from "Jane Doe’s mother. She said, ‘I’m calling because I had a stroke. I’m getting out of the hospital, and I just wanted to say to you that I’ll never forget what you did for me.’"
http://www.ocweekly.com/ink/05/01/cover-abramsky.php
 
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#63
Repressed memories at issue in trial

By Chris Bernard
[email protected]


BRENTWOOD - In the hearing to determine whether repressed memories should be admissible in a sex abuse trial, it was a battle of science on Friday.

At its core, the case is about claims made by 18-year-old Rhianna Light that, when she was younger, her father, Exeter resident Phil Bourgelais, sexually abused her. Light says she repressed and subsequently recovered memories of that abuse.

In 1996, a state Supreme Court ruling established criteria for prosecutors to meet for repressed memories to be admissible in New Hampshire courts. Last month, Assistant Rockingham County Attorney Brad Bolton began his efforts to show that her case meets those criteria.

But painted on a broader canvas, much of the case so far has been about science.

The prosecution’s expert witness, Dan Brown, testified that, based largely on his review of 85 scholarly studies in the field, repressed memories are reliable. Brown also said most of the scientific community agrees.

On Friday, the court heard otherwise.

Dr. Harrison Pope, a Harvard psychiatrist acting as witness for the defense, rebutted most of Brown’s claims. He also disputed Brown’s methodologies.

For nearly 30 years, Pope has been a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, teaching at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts. His expertise, he said, lies in the design and interpretation of studies and minimizing metholodogical flaws.

Pope said he is one of the 250 most-cited psychiatrists in the world.

Defense attorney Andrew Cotrupi spent some time Friday establishing Pope’s resume for the court, and comparing it to Brown’s.

Immediately, Bolton took exception.

"I don’t understand how (Pope) could be an expert in repressed memories if he doesn’t believe they exist," he said.

Memories

Pope’s testimony began simply.

"Trauma is memorable," he said.

People are more likely to remember Sept. 11, 2001 - the day the airliners crashed into buildings in New York and Washington, D.C. - than, say, Aug. 11.

"If Mother Nature designed us to forget trauma, that would seem very odd," he said. "If we forgot that we were attacked by a lion, we’d walk in front of another lion."

Science, like law, has a burden of proof, Pope said. In this case it falls on those who support repressed memories.

In order to acceptably meet that burden of proof from a scientific example, he said, simple criteria need to be met. A scientist must show that a significant number of victims of documented trauma were unable to remember that trauma.

In addition, other causes of amnesia need to be ruled out, such as age, physical injury or drunkenness, he said.

In Pope’s opinion, most of the studies cited by Brown failed to meet those criteria - either the initial trauma wasn’t documented, or other causes of forgetting were not ruled out.

In many cases, he said, victims of trauma don’t report it. Nonreporting can be mistaken for amnesia.

Many studies are done retrospectively, he said - subjects who self-report trauma later are asked if, at any time, they forgot that trauma. That’s an unreliable approach to documenting dissociative amnesia, a more technical term for repressed memories.

"I’m not saying as a scientist that repressed memory can’t exist," Pope said. "I could be convinced. ... (But) the burden of proof falls on the other side to prove that it does."

General acceptance

Pope spoke to the idea of general acceptance; essentially, whether a majority of scientists accepts the phenomenon of repressed memories.

"If it were valid," he said, "one would expect a steady output of scientific publications on the topic."

To that end, Pope searched publication databases for repressed memory-related terms and found more than 100 articles published in 1997.

Before that, he found "almost zero," he said, and after 1997 he found a major drop-off. There were just 34 publications in 2003.

"That suggests that repressed memories enjoyed a brief period of scientific interest which has now waned," he said.

For comparison, Pope also searched for studies on other recently defined scientific orders, such as binge-eating and chronic fatigue syndrome. He found a similar peak but no significant drop-off.

Further, he said, since 10 percent of women and 5 percent of men experience some sort of childhood sexual abuse, if just 20 percent experienced repressed memories, hypothetically speaking there should be about 3 million cases of repressed memories annually.

"There was not a single published case (of documented repressed memory) in 2003," Pope said.

Pope outlined what he called the "four fallacies" that plague many of the studies cited by Brown.

One of them posits that just because a scientist thinks something is possible does not mean it is generally accepted.

As an example, Pope considered life on Mars. Even if most scientists think it is possible for life to exist on Mars, it is not generally accepted that it does, he said.

"Is repressed memory generally accepted in the scientific community?" Cotrupi asked Pope.

"It is clearly not," Pope replied. "I would say it enjoys even less recognition ... than it did at the time of Hungerford in the mid-1990s."

Cross examination

When Cotrupi cross-examined Brown earlier last week, he attacked the expert’s motivation for testifying in court. On Friday, the prosecution did the same with Pope.

Pope is a member of the scientific advisory board of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, a nonprofit group that acts as a flagbearer for the idea that repressed memories can be implanted or imagined.

Bolton said the FMSF has been involved in several high-profile lawsuits against therapists who claimed to have helped patients recover memories.

He also linked Pope to Christopher Barden, a psychologist and attorney who consulted on Pope’s published critique of Brown. Barden also has been perhaps the most vocal opponent of repressed memories, speaking on TV and in print media, and trying several large jury award cases claiming false memories.

Assistant County Attorney Bolton went after the integrity of the FMSF, which he said is composed of "a group of parents who feel they’ve been falsely accused by their children."

He questioned Pope’s involvement with Barden and the FMSF, "two groups who have a serious interest in squashing the science of repressed memories."

Pope defended his involvement, saying he was a member only of the scientific advisory board and not involved in the day-to-day operations of the group.

"I strongly support the science," he said.

Bolton also worked his way through several published studies that Brown said documented repressed memories, questioning why they failed to meet Pope’s criteria for reliability.

Pope stood his ground, repeating variations of similar statements like a mantra.

"Certainly people make active attempts to forget," he said. "That’s quite different from not being able to remember. ... Of course there are people who try to avoid talking about trauma, too. That is very different from being unable to remember trauma."

Bolton seemed skeptical.

"Of all the studies, the only one that meets your criteria supports your position?" he asked.

As a witness, Pope earns 0 an hour. He said he had been told the defense had limited funds, and said he expected to be paid for 10 hours of his time "at the most."

"I’ve gone well over that already," he said.
http://www.seacoastonline.com/news/hampton/09142004/news/37577.htm
 
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#64
Posted on Wed, Oct. 27, 2004

Experts say false confessions come from leading questions, young suspects, high-pressure interrogations

BY EDWARD HUMES

The Orange County Register

SANTA ANA, Calif. - (KRT) - The detective surveyed the grim scene that had pre-empted his morning coffee - a 12-year-old girl's slim form sprawled in her bedroom doorway, brown hair still pulled into a neat ponytail, her jeans and purple T-shirt smeared with blood. He was steeling himself for the next step in the investigation: confronting his prime suspect.

Stephanie Crowe had been stabbed nine times as she lay in bed, her family sleeping down the hall as she died. Her mom awoke at one point to the sound of a door creaking, but the house cats were always making little noises on their nightly prowls, and so she rolled over and returned to her dreams and a lifetime of if onlys.

There were no signs of forced entry at the Crowe house. Inside job, the detective concluded.

There had been only one other killing in Escondido, Calif., that year, but it was nothing like this horror. This was the sort of thing that ruined a good town, the sort of thing that had to be solved, and solved fast.

The detective didn't have to look far for a solution: The family had been in hysterics since finding Stephanie early that morning - everyone, that is, but her brother, 14-year-old Michael Crowe. He sat, expressionless, the detective would later recall, calmly playing a handheld video game. "Inappropriate grieving," the police later called it.

His dark hair, parted in the middle, the detective noted, looked a lot like the strands he had spotted in Stephanie's cold fingers.

The detective and his partners at the Escondido Police Department knew what had to be done - hard, unpleasant but essential. By the time they completed their many hours of interrogation of Michael Crowe, along with two friends thought to be accomplices, the police had used lies, false promises, isolation from parents and attorneys, even threats of adult prison and predatory older inmates to persuade the teenager to drop his protestations of innocence.

The detectives told a sobbing, gasping, pleading Michael that they had blood and lie-detector evidence proving beyond any doubt that he was the killer - lies, but convincing to the 14-year-old. Then they suggested he might have a split personality: a good Michael who would never hurt a fly, and a bad Michael who had locked away the memory of poor Stephanie's murder, enabling him to sit there and believe himself innocent. If he would only just admit it, detectives promised, they could help him.

In the end, the police got what they needed to bring the boys to justice: confessions from Michael and a friend, and enough incriminating statements from the third boy to file murder charges against them all. Sure, the interrogations were rough, the videotapes painful to watch, but such was the difficult path to truth. And so another dreadful case of violent, antisocial teens in the era of Columbine was laid to rest.

Except there was one hitch: The insistent voice of a slim, intense psychology professor from the University of California, Irvine, kept saying, No, you've got the wrong guys.

Richard Leo, who has spent most of his career studying the dynamics of police interrogations - both the good and the bad - viewed more than 40 hours of videotape of Crowe, his friends and the Escondido Police. When he was through with his analysis, he declared the police work in the Crowe case a textbook example of how not to question suspects, finding that it amounted to a form of "psychological torture" so coercive that the boys would have said almost anything to make it stop.

If you wanted a lab experiment designed to prove how to bully suspects into falsely confessing to crimes, Leo concluded in a case that began with Stephanie's death in 1998 and continues to this day, you couldn't do any better than what took place in that Escondido police interview room.

The boys were innocent, Leo asserted, confessions be damned. And he was right.

Confessions, DNA, fingerprints, eyewitness testimony, the word of crime victims: These are the gold standards of criminal investigation, the best and most convincing tools for bringing the guilty to justice. Who could doubt a person's guilt with such compelling evidence in hand?

The answer, for most of the last century, was: no one. But such seemingly ironclad evidence has come under a new scrutiny from a cadre of researchers at UCI's School of Social Ecology - psychologists, social scientists and attorneys, all working in that gray zone where the law, science and study of the mind intersect. Their research has broken new ground and established UCI as one of the premier schools for law and psychology.

Their work has changed the way DNA evidence is regarded, uncovering grievous mistakes by crime labs nationwide, compelling others to improve their practices, freeing innocents from prison and death row.

They have challenged the science behind 100 years of fingerprint comparisons, rattling forensics experts worldwide.

Their research has altered the way we view eyewitness reliability and raised new questions about "recovered" memories of long-past crimes.

And a "jury lab" regularly reveals how well - or how poorly - evidence is understood by ordinary citizens - and why normal people sometimes hear and see things that just didn't happen.

As lawyers and expert witnesses, their cases have included O.J. Simpson's, Oliver North's, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Catholic Church's child abuse cases. Along the way, says one of the nation's leading experts in law and psychology, John Monahan of the University of Virginia Law School, "UCI ... has leaped to the national forefront."

There are many reasons that UCI's law, crime and psychology program is now considered among the two or three best in the nation, Monahan and other experts in the field say. But most agree that the school's rise to prominence began in earnest in 2001, when psychologist and memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus came to town, streaming acclaim and controversy in her wake.

--------------

"Hawaii? You want me in Hawaii?"

The nation's most sought-after courtroom expert on eyewitness memory silently ponders a quick trip to the 50th state, the suggestion rendering her momentarily speechless - which is not the usual state of affairs for Beth Loftus. But this offer is unexpectedly alluring, dangled before her by an eager defense attorney calling from Honolulu: Could she please take a quick summer trip to paradise to testify in a murder case?

She gets at least one such call a day, a deluge that has put her on the stand more than 250 times in her career. She's just back from a homicide case against a cop in Phoenix, and she'll soon head to Boston, where she'll analyze the "recovered" memories of people who have, after many years, remembered being abused as children by Catholic priests. There's no time for more trips, even to Hawaii.

"No," Loftus finally tells her crestfallen caller, stifling a sigh. "I just can't do it."

Loftus is in demand for a simple reason: The 59-year-old psychologist is the ultimate memory detective.

For the last quarter-century, she has hunted the sources and causes of false memories and revealed just how easily our remembrance can be manipulated. In Loftus' memory lab, people recall events that did not occur, recognize strangers as familiar faces, and recount in sensory detail experiences that they have never had.

In an experiment for a recent PBS documentary, Loftus and her team persuaded actor Alan Alda that eating a hardboiled egg may have made him sick during a picnic when he was a child - something he had previously insisted never happened.

All it takes is a suggestive or misleading question from an incompetent or devious interrogator, and an entire memory can change without a person even knowing it, Loftus has found. The implications of her research have been profound, for when false memories involve more than picnic lunches and party encounters, when they influence crime witnesses, victims and suspects, then liberty, life and the integrity of the justice system are at stake. In ways no one ever expected but which are now the basis of countless research projects, Loftus' work has permanently altered the way our recollections are treated in court.

Elected this year to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Loftus is one of the 25 most cited psychologists in scientific literature. To say her arrival was a coup for the university, says Leo, who helped recruit her and whose own research is based in part on her discoveries, is an understatement.

"Beth Loftus is not just a pioneer. She is the pioneer in the field of eyewitness testimony and memory," says Steven Clarke, chairman of the law and psychology program at UC Riverside. "Beth Loftus was the first to develop the scientific methodology to study the memory of eyewitnesses. ... She's a magnet for talent. She has catapulted UCI to the top in law and psychology."

Over the course of her career, Loftus' work shattered the once widely held notion that the brain stores memory like some sort of organic computer, an analogy she has disproved in a series of clever experiments that showed just how easy it is to influence, contaminate and manipulate what people remember. She proved that leading questions, even seemingly innocuous ones, could contaminate and alter memories of complex events.

She began experimenting early on with witnesses' memories of car accidents - showing them recreations or videos of collisions, then questioning them. She found that even varying simple descriptive terms in questions - asking, for example, how fast the cars were traveling when they smashed one another versus when they hit one another - had profound consequences.

People in the "smashed" group tended to remember higher speeds than the "hit" group, and to claim more often that they saw glass breaking during the accident, although there had been no broken glass.

The results were even more dramatic when she experimented with offering outright misleading information to witnesses, such as suggesting there was a yield sign at the scene of a collision when there was actually a stop sign. Those who received the misleading information more often remembered the signs incorrectly than those who were questioned in a neutral way.

Blame for an accident could be shifted, Loftus discovered, just by asking questions in a certain way. And the resulting false memories were not necessarily uncertain - many people recalled them with conviction, even emotion, just as if they were genuine experiences.

In a series of follow-up experiments, she demonstrated what would later be called the "Lost in the Mall Effect," finding that, on average, as many as one in four people can be convinced through suggestive questioning that they experienced all sorts of traumatic events that never occurred - getting lost in the mall as a child and becoming terrified; witnessing demonic possessions; getting bitten by an animal.

The test subjects often went on to add their own rich, detailed accounts of these non-existent events that they now adamantly believed to be true: fictional rescuers, fictional medical treatment, fictional joyous returns home.

Even visceral, primal memories are not sacrosanct in Loftus' Memory Lab, where she experiments on implanting false food memories as the ultimate dieting tool. "Just think of what we could do for people who need to diet if they could be persuaded to remember that they dislike fattening foods." she says.

Her work, along with that of other like-minded researchers, proved critical to debunking the mass child-abuse cases that sprang up around the country in the 1980s, including the McMartin preschool case and dozens like it from Bakersfield to Boston. Loftus, Leo and others have found that children are especially vulnerable to having their memories altered by leading questions.

Although prosecutors have sometimes criticized and grilled her, and some experts have tried to cast doubt on her lab work by asserting that it exaggerates memory problems in the "real world," the science behind Loftus' conclusions about eyewitness memory is widely accepted. She says she never felt particularly controversial - until she began about 10 years ago to take on what she derisively calls "the recovered-memory crowd."

"That's when all hell broke loose," she says.

When a series of spectacular and emotionally charged cases began cropping up in the `90s based on the theory of "repressed" and "recovered" memories of past traumas and abuse, Loftus discerned a pattern: The long-lost memories were almost always revealed during sessions with therapists who were already inclined to believe in repressed memories as a cause of depression, bulimia and a host of other disorders. Not only did she find the scientific basis for this dubious, Loftus also came to believe that many "recovered" memories could be attributed to therapists who inadvertently used suggestive techniques with their patients.

"Except people were being sent to prison this time," she says.

Her work helped free George Franklin of San Mateo, Calif., perhaps the most widely publicized recovered-memory defendant, who was convicted of murder after his adult daughter recalled during therapy that she had witnessed him kill her best friend when she was 6 years old, more than two decades earlier. Franklin served five years in prison before successfully appealing.

Loftus' testimony on behalf of Napa winery executive Gary Ramona, accused of abusing his daughter many years after the fact, helped him successfully sue his daughter's Irvine, Calif., therapist, then persuade a jury that the "recovered" memories that destroyed his career and marriage had been created in the therapist's office.

Most recently, Loftus has gotten involved in the defense of the Archdiocese of Boston and Father Paul Shanley in cases arising from recovered memories of sexual abuse. The district attorney in Boston recently dropped charges involving two of the alleged victims, whose memories seemed most subject to Loftus-style challenge.

But psychologists remain somewhat divided on the validity of recovered memories, and Loftus has aroused the ire of true-believers, particularly those who consider themselves victims of long-past abuse - which is why she has been swatted with a newspaper by a fellow air passenger, and why a man spoke at a conference on repressed memory not long ago about longing to slash Loftus' tires.

Indeed, UCI owes Loftus' presence at the Irvine campus to a controversial repressed-memory case.

While at the University of Washington, Loftus raised doubts about a therapist's claims that he had videotaped a woman in the act of recovering a memory of child abuse. The patient on the video, which was shown by her therapist at conferences nationwide, complained that Loftus had violated her privacy by attempting to investigate the claims.

Loftus had been a faculty member for 29 years at Washington, yet she recalls with undisguised bitterness that, following this complaint, university officials arrived at her office and seized her files with 15 minutes' notice, ordered her not to speak about the case and began an investigation that lasted 19 months. She finally was exonerated by the university, she says, but racked up ,000 in legal fees in the process, then was sued by the patient when she and another psychologist published an account of their work on the case (without ever publicly identifying the patient). The lawsuit is pending.

Leo heard about the controversy and suggested UCI's School of Social Ecology make Loftus an offer. His own research on false confessions has repeatedly turned up impressionable people who come to "remember" perpetrating crimes they didn't commit. He told her he felt UCI supported professors whose findings challenged conventional thinking - something he had experienced when his work came under fire for freeing people from prison.

Loftus accepted UCI's offer of a titled professorship and the chance to work for what she calls "the best law and psychology department in the country."

Now Loftus sees a "critical mass" forming at UCI, and though she hesitates to suggest her arrival was the catalyst for this, the evidence of her influence is hard to miss.

Down the hall, Assistant Professor Jodi Quas attacks the question of witness reliability from another angle: Her work is geared toward finding ways to make witness memory more reliable, particularly in young children, by scrupulously avoiding the "Lost in the Mall" questioning techniques. Quas is working with juvenile justice authorities in Los Angeles and elsewhere to help young children testify truthfully and to help police officers and social workers question them in a neutral way.

Two other young researchers drawn to the UCI law and psychology group this fall also are shaking conventional views on kids and the legal system. Elizabeth Cauffman of the University of Pittsburgh and Jennifer Skeem of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, are studying the reliability of a checklist many juvenile courts use to identify young sociopaths.

Judges and juvenile social workers have been desperate for a tool to help determine which kids can benefit from treatment and which should just be locked away, and the checklist has seemed to fit the bill. But Skeem and Cauffman are finding that it could easily mistake normal teen problems for adult-style sociopathy. If the checklist isn't working as intended, Cauffman and Skeem say, then kids who can be saved are, literally, being thrown away.

The growing reputation of the law and psychology faculty at UCI has led to an increase in the number of students applying to the university's School of Social Ecology, as well as an influx of grants to keep the research going. "We're like kids at the playground," says Loftus. "This is the place to be."

Richard Leo's work seems to tie together the varied threads of the work of the psychology and law researchers at UCI. His views on false confessions and their causes combine theories about altered memories, suggestive questioning, the effects of stress and trauma on kids, and the way the legal system treats the young and the mentally unstable.

Leo and his mentor, UC Berkeley Professor Richard Ofshe, have done some of the world's most oft-cited research on the false-confession phenomenon. Along the way, Leo, 40, has consulted on more than 500 criminal cases and testified in more than 100, primarily for the defense. (He also has done training for the Miami Police Department and other law-enforcement organizations.)

Interest in false confessions came accidentally for Leo: While an undergrad at Berkeley in 1984, a student in his class was grilled by police for 16 hours in a murder case. The young man ended up confessing to killing his girlfriend.

No physical evidence pointed to Bradley Paige as the killer of Berkeley student Bibi Lee, who was found dead on a hiking trail, her skull badly fractured. The police zeroed in on him out of habit: Statistically, most murdered women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends.

The account of the crime police extracted from him did not match the evidence at the murder scene - although it did match preliminary information the interrogators had in hand about the girl's death, information that proved to be wrong. In later years, Leo would show how this sort of flaw can be a prime indicator of a false confession, evidence that the police, not the suspect, provided the story line.

But at the time, confessions were rarely attacked in court, and such fine points seemed like nitpicking. He said he did it, the prosecutor argued, so what else did one need to know? Page was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison - a conviction that has stood despite compelling evidence uncovered later implicating a convicted serial killer seen in the vicinity of Bibi Lee's murder.

The case, and particularly the tactics of the police and the discrepancies between the confession and the crime, left a deep impression on Leo. Such cases have been the subject of his research ever since.

Leo does not design and perform experiments as Loftus does, but instead uses real-world criminal cases to study confessions and interrogation techniques, making detailed comparisons between accounts of crimes given by "confessed" criminals and the objective facts uncovered by forensic investigations and eyewitness interviews. Confessions are such powerful evidence that police, prosecutors and juries will often overlook irrefutable evidence of innocence - somebody else's DNA or fingerprints at the crime scene - rather than disregard the confession, Leo has found.

One particularly tough case for him was in Stanislaus County, Calif., last fall, when Joseph Alan McCarty was convicted of manslaughter for killing his best friend's mother. Leo was called to the stand in the case to testify about techniques police use to extract confessions, and how they can lead to false admissions, particularly with young and impressionable people under stress. McCarty was 20 at the time. But Leo was barred from saying outright that McCarty's confession was, in his opinion, false.

The jury foreman would later say he and his fellow jurors, while convicting McCarty, found Leo "completely credible," but that they ended up believing the confession was legitimate in this case. The jury never knew what Leo and everyone else in the courtroom knew: McCarty had passed a polygraph test in which he denied responsibility for the murder. That test, like Leo's opinion, was legally inadmissible.

"It is depressing at times," says Leo. "False confessions have led to more wrongful convictions than any other single type of evidence."

Leo helped reach a happier outcome two years ago in Wenatchee, Wash., where a modern-day witch-hunt for child molesters led to the arrest of 43 residents accused of abusing 60 children. Nearly 30,000 criminal charges were filed before the case began to unravel, as allegations of police misconduct, threats and coercion of suspects and child witnesses - including the lead investigator's own foster daughter - began to surface.

But by that point, more than a dozen indigent and developmentally disabled defendants had been persuaded to confess and plead guilty.

Leo strives to avoid emotional involvement in the cases he studies, but he was infuriated by the Wenatchee case, and he felt compelled to get involved. Leo's work proved pivotal in freeing several of the accused (as did the work of Loftus, who also took on several Wenatchee cases). In one case, Leo was able to show how Doris Green, a mother of four, had been coerced and threatened into confessing. She was freed after serving four years of a 23-year prison sentence.

This spring, Leo and a co-author published a study that uncovered 125 false confessions that occurred in five years, in which DNA or other conclusive evidence subsequently proved the confessed criminals innocent. These were not cases in which innocence was possible or likely, but absolutely certain - confessed "criminals" who had done nothing more than walk into an interrogation room.

Among Leo's most provocative findings:

False confessions are most common in murder cases, where the pressure is greatest to make an arrest. The high stakes of such cases do not make the police more careful about avoiding false confessions - just the opposite.

A third of false confessions come from juveniles, "the most vulnerable" to police pressure, says Leo.

The average interrogation in the 125 false confession cases lasted more than 16 hours, compared to a typical police interrogation, which averages less than two hours.

Almost 60 percent of the false confession cases studied were dropped by police or prosecutors before trial. But of those false confession cases that went to trial, 81 percent ended with a conviction - with nine receiving death sentences.

Most of the false confessions would not have been revealed without the advent of modern DNA testing - innocents would remain in prison, or face execution.

-------------------

The Stephanie Crowe murder investigation in Escondido illustrated all of these factors in a single case: juveniles accused of murder, high pressure on the police to solve a sensational crime, marathon interrogation sessions, and a case that entered jury selection before it was abruptly dropped because DNA evidence pointed to an entirely different killer.

Leo says it was his most memorable and disturbing case by far. He interrupted his yearlong book-writing sabbatical so he could testify in the case this past spring.

Part of Leo's work required him to view the 40-plus hours of interrogation tapes in the case. They are painful to watch - no parent would willingly allow their child to be subjected to the crushing pressure exerted on the three boys by the police. But the parents had no choice. They were kept away, with the Crowes threatened with arrest and with losing custody of their youngest daughter even as they mourned Stephanie's death.

In the videos shot inside the Escondido Police interrogation room, 14-year-old Michael writhes, screams, sobs, appears to nearly choke, and begs the police to please, please stop. He bangs his head against the wall and cries out, "Oh, God, oh God, no." He curls into an upright fetal position and says over and over that he could not possibly have killed his sister, that he would remember it if he had.

But the detectives are relentless.

They lie to him, they claim a voice stress analyzer reveals him as a killer, they say blood and other evidence link him and his friends irrefutably to the crime. They imply prison and rape by older inmates will be inevitable unless he confesses and gets help. And, finally, Michael cracks.

"As one watches Michael Crowe's deep and anguished cries as he is told, repeatedly, and comes to believe, that he killed his sister without any knowledge or memory of doing so, one sees the picture of psychological torture," Leo later wrote in a report to Crowe's lawyer. "In my professional opinion, the interrogations of Michael Crowe were psychologically brutal, coercive and highly improper."

As so often happens with impressionable and young suspects, Leo says, Michael reached a point where he began to say whatever the detectives wanted to hear - anything to make the interrogation end. He begins to express doubts about his own mind and memory, the detectives having convinced him that there is a mountain of evidence against him. At last he says on the tape that he may have done it without really remembering it.

The detectives declared this a triumph and called Michael Crowe's words an admission of guilt. Leo calls it a "coerced-persuaded" confession - when the confessor doubts his own memory and makes an admission based on the "facts" the police give him. The only real evidence in the case against Crowe was this confession, a similar one from one friend and incriminating statements from another.

The detectives' failure to give Miranda warnings eliminated some of this taped evidence, and the rest of the case evaporated as trial was about to begin. It turned out that the Escondido Police had in their possession for months a shirt seized from a 34-year-old schizophrenic transient, Richard Tuite, who witnesses saw in the neighborhood on the afternoon and evening of the murder. Police discounted him as a suspect as they focused solely on Stephanie's brother and his two friends.

At the insistence of defense attorneys, an independent lab finally examined Tuite's shirt. DNA tests identified Stephanie's blood spattered on the cloth. The police had the key to the case in their possession all along.

As for the hairs on Stephanie's hands that seemed so suspicious to detectives: They were stray hairs the girl probably picked it up from the carpet while trying to crawl out of her room.

In the wake of the DNA evidence, the San Diego district attorney dropped the case against Michael Crowe and his friends but refused to charge Tuite, saying prosecutors still believed a case could be re-filed against the boys. Leo says the power of the confession evidence swayed the authorities as they began to search for some theory that could put the boys and Tuite together - even though none of the confessions mentioned a transient.

The Escondido police have never publicly apologized nor retreated from their belief in the boys' guilt, and the city has succeeded in winning dismissal of most, though not all, of a federal lawsuit filed by the boys' family.

Police officials routinely decline comment on the case, but several of the original detectives served as consultants for a true-crime book that suggested the boys were more likely Stephanie's killers than Tuite. But a new investigation by the San Diego Sheriff's Department placed blame squarely on Tuite.

The state attorney general took over the case, filing murder charges and calling on Leo as an expert witness to explain why the boys' confessions could not be believed. "It is ... one of the most egregious examples of inept and improper questioning I have ever seen," Leo testified.

Escondido detectives testified for the defense and in support of the confessions.

In May, six years after Stephanie died and long after the three boys on the confession videotape had become young men, jurors rejected the confessions and the detectives who extracted them, and voted to convict Tuite of voluntary manslaughter - a verdict both Leo and the Crowe family view as a form of vindication. Tuite received a maximum sentence of 13 years in prison in August, and faces additional time for briefly escaping custody during jury selection.

The attorney general's office was so impressed with Leo that they want him back to do training for their office about false confessions. "He's normally a defense witness, of course," says Deputy Attorney General Jim Dutton, a prosecutor on the Tuite case. "But he's the kind of witness who says the same thing no matter what side calls him. ... Our job is to get it right, not just win a case. If there's a false confession, we want to know it."

If there's a common goal for the researchers in psychology and the law at UCI, they say it's not what some in law enforcement tend to imagine: that they're out to prove America is overrun by rogue cops and bullying prosecutors. Rather, their findings suggest that injustices tend to arise from the best, not the worst, of intentions, from genuine - if misguided - desire to protect the public, from conventional wisdom that is anything but wise, and from good-faith beliefs that are, nevertheless, as false as the memories they can generate.

The power and continuing impact of their work is not simply a mater of pointing out how the authorities can get it wrong, say memory researchers. It's in helping the authorities get it right.



---------------
© 2004, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).
http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/mld/ledgerenquirer/news/nation/10026734.htm
 

Mighty_Emperor

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#65
Not reall sure if this should go in here or the Michael Jackson thread but it seems to fit better here.

A guy is suing Michael Jackson for abuse (some of it very bizarre) suffered 20 years ago but he has only recovered the memories.

MICHAEL Jackson was last night accused of slashing a youth with a razor blade then sexually abusing him at gunpoint.

Joseph Bartucci, now 38, claims he carries scars from the “attack” 20 years ago.

The American, who was 18 at the time, says Jacko BIT him, PUNCTURED his chest with steel wire and DRUGGED him.

........

Bartucci says he has only come forward now because his memory was repressed until he saw Jacko on TV last year.
http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2-2004512942,00.html

Bartucci alleges that Jackson sexually molested him, cut him with a razor blade, bit him, punctured his chest with steel wire and force-fed him "mood altering substances." He further claims that the bizarre and shocking attacks took place in a limousine and building in and around Louisiana and were done "willfully, maliciously, outrageously, deliberately, and purposely with the intention to inflict emotional distress."

The lawsuit claims the attacks caused Bartucci severe emotional trauma and enumerates his numerous physical and psychological problems including: permanent injuries, scarring, aggravation of pre-existing heart problems, depression, low self-esteem, suicidal tendencies, severe mental anguish, fear of physical contact, eating disorders, nightmares, debilitating terror and repression of memories.

In fact, Bartucci says memory of the painful events were only reawakened when he watched a Court TV special regarding the pop star's current molestation case in November 2003. Until then, the lawsuit states the accuser was "disabled and under such a condition of mental derangement as to actually bar him from comprehending" his right to take legal action against Jackson.
http://www.zap2it.com/movies/news/story/0,1259,---23493,00.html

The Smoking Gun page(s) containing the actual documents:

http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/1104041jackson1.html

I suppose if it does go to court it might prove the end of repressed memories for a while but...........
 

escargot

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#66
Dingo666, I'm sure your mother remembers whether or not such a horrific incident happened so unless you have reason not to, I'd believe what she says.

I'm certain that I have 'recovered' some horrific memories. One explains why I have a phobia. A horrible experience at a very young age. :(

My memory of the phobia incident is corroborated by adults who were nearby but not present.
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
#67
I have no doubt that some memories are 'repressed' but I would argue the definition of repression. Just because you don't think about some things, or have genuinely forgotten them, doesn't mean any number of physical medical complaints can be blamed on memories which you have not forgotten, but erased completely from your mind. That's the problem I have.

As soon as any writer starts talking about hypnosis, or 'relaxation techniques' in therapy, I immediately doubt their findings. That may be considered to be an unfair generalisation, but it is a very very careful questioner who doesn't lead the subject in some way, even by the tone of voice. So I don't buy it.
 
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#68
How The Brain Creates False Memories

How The Brain Creates False Memories

Lawyers are often suspicious of so-called "eye-witness accounts" and rightly so. Hundreds of scientific studies in the past few decades have shown that the memories of people who observe complex events are notoriously susceptible to alteration if they receive misleading information about the event after it has taken place. In this month's issue of the journal Learning & Memory, scientists from Johns Hopkins University report new insights into how such "false memories" are formed. This is the first study to use neuroimaging to investigate how the brain encodes misinformation during the creation of a false memory.

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Using advanced, non-invasive imaging techniques, Yoko Akado and Craig Stark compared the areas of the brain that were active when a subject was encoding a complex event and afterwards, during exposure to misleading information. For example, subjects were asked to watch a vignette comprised of 50 photographic slides showing a man stealing a woman's wallet, then hiding behind a door. A little later, the subjects were shown what they thought was the same sequence of slides but unbeknownst to them the second set of slides contained a misleading item and differed in small ways from the original--the man hid behind a tree, for example, not a door.

Two days later, the subjects took a memory test, which asked them to recall details such as where the man hid, and which presentation--the first, second, or both--contained that information. Memory for a misinformation item was scored as a false memory only if the subject attributed the item to either the original presentation or to both the original and second slide presentations.

Stark and Akado found clear evidence that the subjects' brain activity predicted if their memories of the theft would be accurate or false. Consistent with findings from numerous previous studies that have reported that areas such as the hippocampus are highly active during memory formation, Okado and Stark found activity in the left hippocampus tail as well as perirhinal cortex was correlated with successful encoding of an item in memory, even when the memory that was formed was for a false item. But in subjects who had formed false memories, it was noticeable that activity in other brain areas such as the prefrontal cortex was weak during exposure to the second sequence of slides compared to during the original viewing.

Okada and Stark suggest that activity in the prefrontal cortex is correlated to encoding the source, or context, of the memory. Thus, weak prefrontal cortex activity during the misinformation phase indicaates that the details of the second experience were poorly placed in a learning context, and as a result more easily embedded in the context of the first event, creating false memories.


http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 130345.htm
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This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

http://www.cshl.org/
 

mossy_sloth

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#69
This is pretty mundane, in terms of subject matter, but the actual experience is still a source of confusion to me..

A friend of mine had a house with a phone in the kitchen. The phone was next to a sliding door. The problem is, I distinctly remember having a conversation on the phone, and the phone was next to the fridge, on the opposite side of the room. I commented to my friend that they had moved their phone, but, as it turns out, the phone had never been anywhere other than next to the sliding door. This was before cordless phones were very common (about 88 or 89?)and besides, the phone I remember was attached to the wall (as was the one they ACTUALLY had).

It definitely wasn't dream, I still remember it very clearly. But I must be wrong. Reality says I'm wrong. Like I said, it's a pretty boring story, but the idea that we can remember things that never happened is a bit of a worry!

So has anybody else had experiences of 'false memories', that is, they seem real, but CANNOT possibly have happened?
 

FuzzyLord

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#70
Is it possible that you have confused one place for another? If you have a circel of acquaintances who live in the same neighborhood and the houses were part of one development, then you might be in more than one house with very similar format. You might have been on a phone that was located at that spot in a very similar kitchen, but in a different house. The owner of the home where you think it happened could have been there if all three persons (you, the friend, and the owner of my theoretical hause) are all friends.

I'm making a lot of suppositions here. Just a thought.
 

mossy_sloth

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#71
good theory but unfortunately not really applicable here!

This friend lived in a small town that I never went to unless I was visiting them. I was also very familiar with the house and had stayed there a number of times. The house was not a part of a development, and was dissimilar to the houses on either side of it (not that I ever went into either of those houses).

But I do remember staring t their garbage bin as I spoke on the phone, which, incidently was in the same place both in reality and in my false memory!
 
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Anonymous

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#72
I've had similar sorts of things happen - especially when I remember things that happened many, many years ago, or when I was a child. In fact, the memories are very vivid and distinct, and have been remembered many times over - and yet, when I present them to other people who were present at the time, they deny that it happened the way it did.

I remember lots of things from my childhood which, according to my parents, did not happen or happened in ways other than what I remember. My mother often asks me, "Where did you come up with that?" I remember the layout of the apartment where I grew up very distinctly, and yet, when I look at photographs of it, it is utterly different. The layout I seem to be remembering is instead my grandmother's old apartment, where I also spent a great deal of time in childhood.

I have no idea what causes this type of thing to occur, but it is very disconcerting.

Another, even more disconcerting phenomenon, is that I often begin to "remember" things that happened to other people. Once, a friend told me a story about something that happened to him on vacation in Scotland, involving a swarm of insects. I suppose I must have very vividly imagined this story as it was told, because a few years later I found myself unable to remember if it had happened to ME while I was on vacation in Scotland. I found myself telling the story of the funny thing that happened to me in Scotland, when I stopped myself, and wondered, did that happen to me? Of course, it hadn't, but somehow it had gotten entwined with my own memories of Scotland. Very scary, because it makes me question almost every old memory I have. Did they happen? Am I remembering stories other people told me? Perhaps a TV show or movie I once saw? Who knows...
 

BuckeyeJones

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#73
I guess this is kind of the same thing.
A few years ago I wrote a song. The writing went very quick and smoothly. I was working with a partner in those days and I called him up and told him I had come up with a song that was sure to sell in Nashville.
Well my friend came over to my house and we went into the studio and I preceeded to play and sing the song for him as he read the chart I had made for him. He sat and listened with a bemused smile as I played and when I was finished, he said I like it man. He then picked up my guitar and began to play "my" song. As he was the singing part of our duo I began to que up the tape recorder and set the lyric sheet on a stand for him. He said, " I won't need the lyrics for this take........" I looked at him and he started over from the top and when It came time for my words he began to sing a Kenny Rogers song! Yes folks I had completely re-written "A fine time to leave me Lucille!" A classic trailer-trash hokey country song. Boy was my face red :oops:
:lol:
I coulda swore my song was all me.

Peace
=^..^=217
 
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Anonymous

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#74
Many years ago I told a girlfriend about an incident I had seen in a park. Very many years later, we were in a park, and she started to tell me about the exact same incident she had seen, many years previously, in the same park I had seen the original, and with the same details.

Although I hadn't met her at the time of the incident and she could not have been there, it did take a while to convince her that she was recalling what I had told her rather than her having seen it for herself!
 
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Anonymous

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#75
Memories can change very easily. although they may seem accurate at first, lver time, minor details and sometimes even major parts can change or dissapear. i saw a special on tv about how they thought that the wierd stuff at roswel could be the people's memories changing. They took these people on a hike and they set up along the path just in view wreakage, that do not cross tape and someone with a gun that looked like he was from the military. They interviewed them about it a month later and there were changes, such as more military people and them doing things that they didn't do.
 

poozler

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#76
This is fascinating reading! I have had people, as the case with Lutzman's friend, tell me stories that I told THEM as if they personally had experienced them. I had never thought of it as anything other than a case of someone 'stealing' my personal stories. Now I have to rethink all this.
 

krobone

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#77
I can't remember the details of this exactly [/irony] ;), but there was an experiment done some years ago (before Columbine) where a prof in a university staged an 'invasion' during one of his lectures. Two of his students wore costumes, carried toy guns and clapboards, and burst in the lecture room hollering and banging the clapboards. They made for the prof's desk and took a globe from it, then ran out still yelling and making noise.

The professor then explained to his stunned class what was going on, that it was all a set-up, and had them fill out questionnaires about what had just happened. The students differed on just about everything, including the number of 'bandits', what they wore, what they shouted, what they took, and so on. It illustrates an important point, one we should always bear in mind when we tackle Fortean subjects - human perception and memory is very imperfect.
 

mossy_sloth

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#78
being a failed psychology student (yes like so many others I quit after first year when I realised the statistics weren't going to go away) I also remember something like the experiment that Krobone mentioned. Seems to me (IIRC!) that people have schemata in mind whenever they come into a certain situation, ie, if you see an office and are later asked to describe it you will probably remember seeing all the things you THINK should be in an office, shelves, phone etc. So that makes sense I suppose, that we remember detail according to the way we are used to seeing things.

However the memory that that made me start this thread was not false in detail, the whole memory was an impossibility. For instance I can remember who I was on the phone to and what I was looking at when I was speaking, and these are not details that fit into a larger schema.

I wouldn't normally remember the details of a phone conversation that took place over 15 years ago, but I have done presumably because the memory didn't fit in with the reality. And as it confused me, I remembered more of the details than I would had nothing alerted me to the fact that it was an impossible memory.


I just read that back to myself and I am hoping it makes sense...this is very hard to explain.
 
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Anonymous

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#79
This reminds me of an optical illusion where your brain fills in details it thinks should be in the pattern it sees but which aren't actually there.
The brain is trying to maintain a continuity and if there is something missing it is just as likely to fill in the gaps based on what it thinks it should see.
I don't see why this wouldn't be any different for memories.
 
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Anonymous

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#80
Coincindentally, in this month's Skeptic magazine there is a whole article about this phenomenon!

The writers are primarily dealing with memories of 9/11 (so-called "flashbulb" memory, where when something deeply emotionally important/traumatic happens to you, you tend to remember even minute and unimportant details about the day it happened, where you were, what you were doing, etc.)

However, they go into depth about the way memory works, and cite a number of different studies and experiments which have shown that memory is largely fabricated after the fact, and is very susceptible to suggestion. In fact, memories seem to change over the years, becoming less and less accurate as time goes by. Not only that, but there appears to be no way of retrieving the original memory once it is lost. It appears to be gone forever.
 
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Anonymous

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#82
I find this happens with "old" movies. Particularly ones I enjoyed as a youngster. I recently watched "The War of the Worlds", the George Pal 1950's version. I distinctly remembered the end as the alien spaceship knocking out the back wall of the Church where people were hiding, as it crashed to the street with the aliens dying of influenza. Lo and Behold !!! the spaceship crashed to the street OUTSIDE the Church, and everyone ran out to see it !!!! I had 'remembered' a completely different ending (!!??) The Church wasn't even grazed by the edge of the spaceship, it was a building across the street. Odd how we re-mould memory this way and that !!!!
(Personally, I preferred my ending!)
 

rynner2

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#83
yurei said:
In fact, memories seem to change over the years, becoming less and less accurate as time goes by. Not only that, but there appears to be no way of retrieving the original memory once it is lost. It appears to be gone forever.
That reminds me of something I was going to say - but now I've forgotten what it was.... :(
 

AMPHIARAUS

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#84
I was watching the recent bbc2 program about the challenger accident in 86, and I remarked to my wife about seeing it live on TV and how it was 'burned' into memory and did she remember me calling her in to see the pictures on tv.
Big problem was it was 2 years before we met, but I can remember the day, our home, even the tv we saw it on. All things we got together after meeting. I even remember fetching her from the kitchen where she fixing up a cuppa.

Why would my brain form this mundane memory. What purpose does it serve? Perhaps I dont want an answer to that :?
 
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#86
Our memories are not quite as concrete as we like to imagine, and it's obvious from this thread that ‘false’ memories occur quite a lot- it’s just that we’re unaware of it most of the time (how can we be!). It comes as a shock to realise this.

I used to imagine memory as a type of tape recording that was kind of set in stone- a copy of experience that could be faithfully played back at will. But things are rather more complicated than that and it has been shown that when a memory is recalled/reactivated, for a short time it becomes unstable. I guess that this is because memories are never isolated but have to be filed away and integrated with everything else we know about the world. The unsettling thing is that during this time a memory can be contaminated (with your experiences during recall-especially if the experience is similar in nature to the original memory) or even erased with the administration of certain chemical agents. That last bit worries me the most!
 

Fats_Tuesday

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#87
Prof Pretorius said:
I find this happens with "old" movies. Particularly ones I enjoyed as a youngster. I recently watched "The War of the Worlds", the George Pal 1950's version. I distinctly remembered the end as the alien spaceship knocking out the back wall of the Church where people were hiding, as it crashed to the street with the aliens dying of influenza. Lo and Behold !!! the spaceship crashed to the street OUTSIDE the Church, and everyone ran out to see it !!!! I had 'remembered' a completely different ending (!!??) The Church wasn't even grazed by the edge of the spaceship, it was a building across the street. Odd how we re-mould memory this way and that !!!!
(Personally, I preferred my ending!)
Funnily enough, an extremely wiespread false memory is people remembering seeing "the black and white version of War of the Worlds", which never existed.
 
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Anonymous

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#88
A few years ago I was talking to some friends of mine about a local church and I was saying that I remember being baptized in that very church when I was a very tiny baby. My mother was in on the conversation and she said, "There is no way you can remember that", and suddenly I realized she was right. I had been baptized there, but I just heard my family talking about it over the years that I had the whole scenario playing out in my head until one day I stupidly said that I remembering it happening.

I know we can have memories of early childhood ( I remember times before I was 1 year old), but I KNOW I don't remember my christening in that church. I just had it in my head from hearing about it.
Imagine how dumb I felt when I had to say, "Oh! That's right...I don't remember the christening..I just lied to you all because I had this false memory in my head." :oops:
 
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Anonymous

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#89
As a BTW, Ginko Biloba as a supplement, is very good for helping your short term memory.

When I was taking it, I once got into a minicab which I had been in about 3 weeks previously, and told the driver about the problems he was having with the clutch, the mileage of his car and all sorts of things that we had discussed on my previous trip. Needless to say, he couldn't remember a thing about it.
 

AMPHIARAUS

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#90
Leaferne said:
Perhaps you're thinking of the more recent shuttle accident?
Nope - it was challenger. It was as clear as day to me, the boosters corkscrewing away etc.
I just seem to have integrated the memory of challenger into a day from our life circa 1989.
 
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