A jury’s decision in the retrial of a 15-year-old murder case adds more substance to my reporting about the case that appears Chapter 14 of my second nonfiction book, THE CLAPPER MEMO. Notably, it proves ABC News Chief Investigative Reporter Brian Ross was way off base in his reporting about the case during a segment that aired March 30, 2006, on the network’s news magazine show, Primetime.*
On Dec. 6, according to a Los Angeles Times report, jurors acquitted 44-year-old Richard Tuite on charges he murdered 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe in the bedroom of her family home in Escondido, Calif., in January 1998. The mentally-ill transient and petty theft may have become a convenient “fall guy” to take the rap, but he was not the first person charged with the crime.
According to the Times report, the district attorney at the time of the killing not only charged Stephanie’s brother Michael Crowe, then 14, and two of his friends** in the killing, but went so far as to say Michael had confessed under questioning. In addition, the DA said a murder weapon had been found beneath the bed of one of her brother’s friends.
Excerpts from THE CLAPPER MEMO reveal much of what Ross reported about the case, including his bias:
“We’re about to take you somewhere with a lofty-, even futuristic-sounding name,” he said, “the National Institute for Truth Verification.
“It’s run by Dr. Charles Humble, who has become a wealthy man by selling what he says is a virtually-foolproof system to help catch criminals and liars — not by what they say, but how they say it.
“But some critics say his invention is no better than a sewing machine for determining the truth,” Cuomo continued. Then he introduced Ross.
With “Voice Lie Detector?” superimposed on the lower-left corner of the screen, the segment began with video showing Humble seated before a laptop computer and speaking into a microphone as the voice of the reporter described what viewers were seeing on their television screens.
“This is Dr. Charles Humble’s truth-verification system – - a laptop, equipped with a microphone and loaded with a software program called ‘the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer’ — The C-V-S-A. It captures a kind of voice print said to detect stress and, therefore, deception.”
The scene shifted to a typical interview set up, with Ross sitting across from Humble in a well-lit South Florida hotel room as Humble described how his technology works, apparently in response to a question from the reporter.
Humble concluded his remarks by saying, “We have a remarkable record of success with the system.”
“This has become the ‘gold standard’?” Ross asked. “That’s correct,” Humble replied.
The on-screen image shifted to B-roll footage of law enforcement officers sitting in front of laptop computers in a classroom setting, learning about CVSA®. The reporter’s voice accompanied the footage.
“But it has become the gold standard, being sold to more and more police departments every week, despite growing questions about the scientific validity of the machine and about the credentials of Dr. Humble himself.”
The scene shifted back to the one-on-one interview setting with Ross asking Humble another question.
“Is there a single scientific study that shows that this actually works?”
“I don’t believe that there has been an independent scientific study that shows this actually works,” Humble replied, his face filling the screen in an extreme close-up. Keyword: independent.
“Not one?” asked Ross, shown waving one finger in front of him, left to right.
“I don’t believe there has been,” Humble confirmed, again in close-up.
Again, the scene changed and viewers were shown video footage, shot by a camera mounted atop a wall inside a sparsely-furnished room. A young man could be seen seated on a bench against a wall on the opposite side of the room. The reporter’s voice returned.
“Dr. Humble says the machine can only really be tested in the field where he says it has an accuracy rate of 98 percent.”
At this point, it would have made sense for Ross to speak with CVSA® end users like the ones I interviewed; instead, he took the interview in the opposite direction.
Without warning, the distressed voice of the young man shown on screen could be heard — “I didn’t do it, I swear to God” — while his words were superimposed on the screen. Then the reporter’s voice returned.
“But he clearly was not including what happened in the case of 14-year-old Michael Crowe, the California boy who confessed to killing his sister,” Ross continued in voiceover mode. “The machine got it very wrong.”
Quickly, the head-and-shoulders image of a young girl appeared on the screen and the camera slowly pushed in until the girl’s face was filling the screen, accompanied by the reporter’s voice.
“Twelve-year-old Stephanie Crowe was found stabbed to death in her bedroom,” Ross explained as the on-screen image changed to show the outside of a police station. “Michael was brought into the Escondido Police Department for questioning and hooked up to the CVSA in the middle of the night.”
The scene returned to the interrogation room where an exchange took place between a police detective and the young man. The words of each appeared, superimposed on the screen.
“Is today Thursday?” the detective asked. “Yes,” Michael answered. “Did you take Stephanie’s life?” “No.”
The reporter’s voice returned, informing viewers that the detective was telling Michael about the results of the CVSA® exam.
“And it showed that you had some deception on some of the questions,” the detective could be heard saying.
The scene shifted to a full-frame image of Michael’s face years later as he described his thoughts about this episode in his life.
“I started to think that maybe the machine’s right,” Michael said, “especially when they added on top of it that the machine was getting my subconscious feelings on it, that I could be lying and not even know it.”
The reporter’s voice returned to accompany video imagery of Michael inside the interrogation room, sobbing.
“Once he was told he had failed the test, Michael says he began to doubt his own memory and wonder whether maybe he had killed his sister.”
Michael’s face appeared in close-up again. “I didn’t want to go to prison, and I just wanted to be out of that room,” he said, “so my only option was to say, ‘Yeah, I guess I did it,’ and then hope for the best.”
More interrogation-room imagery appeared and viewers were able to hear and read Michael’s confession as the halfway point of the video neared.
“I got a knife, went into her room and then I stabbed her,” he said.
Next, the scene shifted to courtroom footage showing a long-haired man with a walrus-style mustache as Ross chimed in again.
“Just one week before the trial was to begin, police found DNA evidence that lead to the real killer, a transient who is now in prison for killing Michael’s sister.”
Or so they thought.
More details will, no doubt, surface as this murder case is reopened and investigators hunt for the person(s) who murdered Stephanie Crowe. In particular, it will be interesting to see if investigators turn their attention back to the original suspects, Michael Crowe and his aforementioned friends and, if they do, whether any one will seek the return of some $7.25 million reportedly paid to the boys’ families as part of settlement.
Want to learn more about this case and other details related to the use of credibility assessment technologies, including the polygraph and the CVSA® mentioned in the Crowe case? Order a copy of THE CLAPPER MEMO.
The product of an exhaustive four-year investigation, THE CLAPPER MEMO is available in paperback and ebook versions and has been endorsed by several high-profile Americans who understand the implications of my findings. Order your copy today!
NOTES: *Inexplicably, video of the ABC News Primetime segment no longer appears on the network’s website. Only a print version remains available to site visitors. **A site related to a film about the case lists names that are, supposedly, those of Michael Crowe’s friends. Because I could not independently verify them today, I have not included them in this piece.