James Holmes: Mass Media and Uncovering a Motive for Murder

Another mass shooting.  Another day of agony for our country.  A time for us to question, debate and jump to conclusions.  And ultimately, another lost opportunity to learn lessons from a tragedy that will get overshadowed by more recent news and shocking events.  Except of course, for those who suffered through the unimaginable; they will never forget.   

In March 2005, I was the FBI Special Agent in Charge of the mass shooting at Red Lake High School, leaving 10 people dead.  After my news conference, I was contacted by people from all over the world.  For a few weeks, the event, its aftermath and the ensuing investigation were headline news.  Six months later, Red Lake had disappeared from our collective memory. Our memories are short.

The same questions tend to arise after a mass shooting: Isn’t there a profile of these shooters?  Aren’t there red flags?  Usually, the answer is yes.  There is a basic profile of mass shooters.  Certain life events and changing patterns of behavior often unfold prior to the shooting.  These are not hard and fast rules, but generalities that are frequently present.

Reports from family and friends of the alleged shooter James Holmes describe him as shy, but otherwise unremarkable – not the kind of person you are concerned about “going off the edge.”  Yet, some neighbors have described him as a loner – a clear inference to someone who is odd and socially inadequate.  Had this horrific event not occurred, would they still describe him that way, or is this just the effect of the commonly held shooter profile?

When the recent life of the shooter is examined, as is already happening, we often find stressors and triggers.  These are the negative events which make one’s life unhappy and possibly unbearable.  These stressors can be real or imagined.  The triggers are the events that bring the shooter to the point of committing mass murder.

Holmes recently dropped out of his Ph. D. program, according to news reports.  That could have been one red flag.  By itself, it would not signal impending violence.  Were there other signs?  His mother was reported as saying, “You have the right person.”  If a mother can readily accept that about her son, then there must have been other warning signs.  These warning signs will be uncovered.  His accumulation of weapons and ammunition should have been red flags.  Did anyone else know about this?  As of now, the police are confident he acted alone.  That does not mean someone did not know something.

Mass shootings usually occur at school or the workplace as the shooter is seeking revenge against specific people or a group of people he sees as the source of his misery.  School and the workplace are usually where these stressors are most intense.  So, why the movie theater?  Yes, he referred to himself as “The Joker.”  Did he have some fascination with Batman, or did he seek a venue for inflicting maximum damage?
These events often end in suicide by the shooter’s own hand or by forcing the police to shoot him – suicide by cop.  That did not happen; he readily surrendered.  Why?

I suspect that he knew his life and story would be in the headlines for the next few weeks; he wanted to see his story told.  As always, I must point out that Holmes is the alleged shooter; his guilt has not been determined.

Why do we tell the story of the shooter?  We justify that by saying we need to understand; we need to recognize the warning signs; we need to discuss mental health issues and intervention and we need to re-visit the gun laws.  These would be important conversations if we actually accomplished anything.  But we don’t.
Holmes is not cooperating with law enforcement at this point.  I think eventually he will.  That will be the only way to bring his name back in to the spotlight after our attention turns to the next tragedy.

Maybe we should not give any coverage to the life and times of mass murderers.  Do we really need to provide them with any more motivation than they create for themselves?

This post is contributed by Michael Tabman. It originally appeared on his Crime Scene Blog and is republished here with permission. Michael is a retired FBI Agent and the author of several books. He is also the founder of SPIRIT Asset Protection, LLC where he provides services in security and risk management. You can find out more about this author and his books by visiting his website, following him on Twitter or joining him on Facebook.

Interview: Catching Liars with Statement Analysis

Talking to people who don’t want to talk to you is hard.  And it’s a skill that most cops have to learn on the job.  We get extensive training with our guns.  We’re taught how to drive our patrol cars under just about every condition imaginable.  We even get put in computer simulators that gauge our ability to diffuse domestic disturbances.  And yet, for all that, very little attention is given to the cop’s most basic tool – the ability to talk to people.

Well, my guest has made it his mission in life to change all that.  Mark McClish, a former Deputy US Marshal with 26 years of law enforcement experience, is an expert in interviewing people and detecting deception.  While an instructor at the US Marshals Service Training Academy, Mark McClish set out to learn all he could of the fine art of interviewing people.  His research led him to develop the technique of Statement Analysis, which he uses to catch liars with a regularity that is almost uncanny.

Author of the textbook, I Know You Are Lying, and a frequent seminar instructor and lecturer, Mark McClish has assisted law enforcement agencies across the country in hundreds of cases.  And, he has graciously agreed to share a little of his wisdom with us.

So, Loyal Readers, meet Mark McClish.

Joe McKinney:  Mark, welcome.  There are a lot of true crime readers out there eager to hear about what you do.

Mark McClish:  Joe, thank you for providing me this opportunity to address your readers.

JM:  Now, you’ve been a Deputy U.S. Marshal, a law enforcement instructor, and with the publication of your book, I Know You Are Lying, an author.  I want to get to those points here in a bit, but first, would you give us a rundown of what Statement Analysis is?  How is what you do different from that “gut feeling” most of us get when we know we’re being lied to?

MM:  Statement Analysis is the process of examining a person’s words in a verbal or written statement to see if the person is being truthful or deceptive. The Statement Analysis techniques will also help you see additional information within the statement. The majority of the techniques are based on word definitions. For example, when President Clinton talked about testifying under oath at a deposition, he stated, “I was bound to be truthful and I tried to be.” In his statement, he is telling us that he was not completely truthful. The word tried means he attempted but failed to tell the truth.

Some of the techniques are based on the rules of grammar. When we first talk about a person or an item in a story, we use the articles a or an. Once the introduction has been made, we use the article the. For example, “I was walking along Highway 11 when I found a gun. I picked up the gun and gave it to the police.” The subject first identifies the firearm as “a gun.” Once the introduction is made, he then correctly refers to it as “the gun.” When a person introduces someone or something using the article the we have a problem; “A man grabbed me and forced me into the car.” The subject correctly identifies the attacker as “a man.” The problem is that the subject introduced the vehicle as “the car” and not “a car.” This indicates the person may be making up the story or the person recognized the car and was a willing participant. 

A few of the techniques are based on observations that interviewers have made over the years. For example, it has been found that when a person invokes the name of God there is a good chance he is being deceptive; “I swear to God” or “Honest to God” or “God as my witness.”

Since the majority of the techniques are based on word definitions and the rules of grammar, the techniques are very accurate. While your gut feeling may tell you someone is lying, Statement Analysis will show you he is lying. There was a case in which a husband and wife were driving to breakfast. The husband pulled off the road to go to the bathroom in the bushes. When he exited the car he forgot to put it in park and the car rolled forward over a cliff killing his wife. He claimed it was an accident. The police believed he sent the car over the cliff on purpose. In his statement to the police, the man began his account by saying, “On July 2, I was with my wife Sharon and we were going to breakfast.” In the first sentence of his statement, he unknowingly tells us there was a problem with their relationship. In talking about his wife, the subject used the word with which always indicates distance. He could have said, “Sharon and I were going to breakfast.” The word and connects the two of them together. In the statement “I was with my wife,” we have I at one end of the sentence and wife at the other end of the sentence. This separation indicates there was some discontent. After analyzing the rest of his statement, it was quite clear he purposely sent his car over the cliff.

JM:  Your website, http://www.statementanalysis.com, lists numerous examples of famous cases where statement analysis successfully identified deception.  Your book, I Know You Are Lying, looks at eight more high profile case studies.  How do you normally get involved in a case?  Are you on standby with certain agencies?

MM:  If there is a high profile case that I am able to obtain transcripts of an interview with the subject, I will analyze the transcripts and post my analysis on my website for the benefit of those visiting my site. I only get involved in a case if an investigator asks me to analyze a statement. Officers send me statements all the time involving cases that do not get national attention. I recently analyzed a note that was left in a store. The writer claimed she had been kidnapped and was leaving notes in an effort to get help. After analyzing the note, I determined it was a fake. The police never found a kidnapper or a victim.  

JM:  Most cops I know talk about training in terms of adding another tool to their tool belt.  I know you teach seminars on a regular basis.  After taking such a seminar, what kind of tool would an investigator have?  Would he be able to dissect a subject’s statement himself, or would he simply be equipped with enough knowledge to know he needs to consult an expert?

MM:  After attending one of my seminars or taking my online training, an officer will be a much better listener and have the ability to detect deception. This helps in obtaining additional information, eliminating suspects and getting a confession. Like with most skills, the more you practice the Statement Analysis techniques the better you will become at detecting deception. 

JM:  Are your seminars for law enforcement agents only, or are they open to other professionals as well, such as lawyers, insurance adjustors, or true crime writers?

MM:  My seminars are open to anyone. The majority of the attendees are law enforcement personnel. However, other professionals such as social workers and attorneys do attend. I don’t think I have ever had a true crime writer attend but they are most welcome!

JM:  I know from personal experience that most investigators start off their careers as generalists and gradually, over a period of many years, develop a specialty.  How did your career path lead you into statement analysis?

MM:  After becoming a Deputy U.S. Marshal in 1985, I set a goal for myself of teaching at our Training Academy. In 1990, I was promoted to an inspector/instructor at the Marshals Service Academy which is located at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, GA.

When I got to the Academy I asked if I could teach interviewing techniques. I had conducted a lot of interviews when I was in the field and it was an area that I was interested in. In preparing to teach our recruits, I was sent to several classes on detecting deception such as word analysis, response analysis and Scientific Content Analysis. I found the techniques to be very interesting. I then spent the next nine years teaching at the Academy and conducting my own research on the words that people use. After analyzing hundreds of statements, I developed my own system for detecting deception which I call Statement Analysis. 

JM:  When an officer does field sobriety tests on a DWI suspect, each test is designed to reveal indicators, or clues, that the subject is intoxicated.  A certain number of clues on each test are sufficient to establish probable cause that the suspect is intoxicated.  Does statement analysis follow a similar process?  When you analyze someone’s statement, are you looking for a sufficient number of indicators to show the overall statement is deceptive, or are you identifying specific areas where the subject is being deceptive?

MM:  When I analyze a statement I am looking to see what the person is saying. When people tell a lie, they generally do not lie about everything. There will be some truth in their statement. I focus on the areas where deception is present. By asking additional questions, I hope to clarify that portion of the statement, obtain additional information or perhaps get a confession. Ideally you want several indicators to conclude the person is being deceptive. Just because a person says one time, “I swear to God” does not mean he is lying. However, sometimes one word (usually a pronoun) can show us the person committed the crime.

JM:  The results of a lie detector instrument are not generally admissible in court.  Why is statement analysis different?

MM:  Statement Analysis is different because it is based on the person’s language. When I analyze a statement I do not interpret but I point out what the person has said. If a rape victim states, “We went into the house and he raped me” we have a problem. The pronoun we always indicates there was a partnership. The victim should not be partnering up with her attacker. A true victim would state something like, “He forced me into the house and raped me.”

On the other hand, Statement Analysis is similar to a lie detector in that it is generally not used in court. You do not need an expert to testify that the word tried means the person has not done it, or that the phrase my victim is a confession because the pronoun my means the person has taken possession of the victim. Some areas of Statement Analysis would not be admissible in court because they are based on observations. This would include words or phrases that indicate deception such as “I swear on my mother’s grave.”     

JM:  As an investigator, I’ve had to interview every one from college professors to illiterate crack junkies so burned out they can barely mumble their names.  Are the techniques of statement analysis adaptable across a broad socio-educational range, or do they necessitate a certain minimum standard of communication?

MM:  People’s words will betray them. Therefore, the techniques will work with anyone who has the ability to communicate. However, if the person has poor grammar skills then some of the techniques may be difficult to use. For example, the person may use present tense verbs instead of past tense verbs not because he is being deceptive but because he does not know how to speak proper English. We have to take this into consideration when analyzing a statement. Other techniques will still work no matter what their educational level or background is.

JM:  I know that word order and certain phrases can be indicators of deception.  How do issues like regional dialects and suspects who speak English as a second language change the statement analyst’s approach to an interview?

MM:  The approach in obtaining information should be the same. However, when analyzing the statement we have to consider regional dialects or if English is not the subject’s first language. The person may use a phrase that is unfamiliar to the interviewer. The interviewer will then need to ask additional questions to clarify what the person said. If English is the subject’s second language, this may cause him to use the wrong pronouns. An interviewer needs to recognize this and look for other signs of deception or truthfulness.

JM:  Cops, as a general rule, don’t embrace change willingly.  Even changes creating an obvious benefit sometimes meet with resistance.  How receptive has the law enforcement community been to the field of statement analysis?  If there is resistance, how do you address it in your teaching?

MM:  Most officers embrace the techniques because they can relate to them. Officers often tell me they have heard many of the things that I teach but never associated it with deception. Their gut feeling told them the person was lying but they could not identify the deception in the person’s statement. 

Probably the hardest thing for officers to accept is my theory that you should believe what people tell you. This is because most people do not lie. Instead they will give you a bunch of truthful statements and leave out the incriminating stuff. If you are looking for the lies, you are probably wasting your time. If you believe what people tell you, you will get a lot more out of their statement. This is because you will now be very discerning and will pay attention to everything the person says.   

JM:  Our discussion so far has dealt strictly with the law enforcement applications of statement analysis, but I imagine it could be applied to other fields as well, like business negotiations, or even in political campaigns, couldn’t it?

MM:  Absolutely. Anyone who conducts interviews can benefit from the techniques. If you are interviewing applicants for a job, you want to hire a truthful person. Politicians are always carefully wording their statements. In 2006, Al Gore was asked if he was going to run for President. He replied, “I don’t have any plans to be a candidate again.” Some people would take that as a no but we only believe what people tell us. We do not interpret. Al Gore did not state that he would not run. He only said that he did not have any “plans.” People change their plans all the time. This was a good political answer that kept the door open to a possible run. As it turned out Al Gore did not run for President.     

JM:  With computer technology growing ever more complex and adaptable, where do you see statement analysis going in the next 5, 10, 20 years?

MM:  When I was a U.S. Marshal we spent a lot of time catching fugitives. We apprehended many of them using high tech equipment. Therefore, I saw the art of interviewing diminishing. However, it will not disappear. Investigators still need to interview witness and take statements at a crime scene. Therefore, the Statement Analysis techniques will still be needed.

In terms of computer technology, officers can use my Statement Analyzer software to analyze a statement. It quickly identifies certain words within the statement and helps officers see things they were not familiar with or over looked.     

JM:  Thanks for joining us, Mark.  It was a pleasure talking with you.

MM:  It was nice talking with you, Joe.

This post was contributed by Joe McKinney, an author of several horror, crime and science fiction novels. He is also currently a sergeant with the San Antonio Police Department. You can find out more about this author and his books by visiting his website, following him on Twitter or joining him on Facebook.

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