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Burden of Proof

Ramseys Pass Private Polygraph

Aired May 25, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET



LIN WOOD, RAMSEY FAMILY ATTORNEY: The Boulder Police Department never intended to allow John and Patsy Ramsey to take a truly fair and independent polygraph examination. Mark Beckner rejected the offer of the American Polygraph Association to provide an examiner and a test that would be fair to both sides.

PATSY RAMSEY, JONBENET'S MOTHER: I really wish we would stop playing games, and I wish they would open their eyes and their minds and their hearts and know that we did not kill our daughter and that a killer walks the streets.

JOHN RAMSEY, JONBENET'S FATHER: Someone killed this 6-year-old child. We know that and we want them captured.

ED GELB, POLYGRAPH EXAMINER: Final conclusion: based on extensive examination, neither John nor Patsy Ramsey were attempting deception when they gave the indicated answers to the relevant questions.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: John and Patsy Ramsey pass a lie detector test. What does it mean? That's today on BURDEN OF PROOF.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Roger is off today.

Declaring their innocence and trumpeting the results of a privately-administered lie detector test, John and Patsy Ramsey faced the media. They sat by their attorney and polygraph expert while the results of the test were explained and then they answered questions from reporters.

The press conference was the latest in a series of public relations skirmishes between the Ramseys and the police in Boulder, Colorado. Authorities in the Colorado town where their 6-year-old daughter was found dead 3 1/2 years ago still consider the Ramseys to be under an umbrella of suspicion and maintain that only a polygraph administered by the FBI would be persuasive in their investigation. Joining us today to talk about lie detector tests and the continuing case of the hunt for JonBenet Ramsey's killer in Denver, Colorado, former Boulder police detective Steve Thomas, he is the author of the book "JonBenet: Inside the Murder Investigation."

In New York, polygraph expert Joel Reicherter.

And here in Washington, Mandy Sams (Ph), polygraph expert Paul Minor, and former federal prosecutor Pam Stuart. In our back, Amanda Wiley (ph), Andrea Smalak (ph) and Christian Panneck (ph).

VAN SUSTEREN: Joel, let me go first to you, the questions that were posed seem to be, in essence, three: One, did you do it?; two, do you know anything about who might have done it?; and then Patsy got the third question, which was whether or not she wrote the note. What do you think about those questions?

JOEL REICHERTER, POLYGRAPH EXPERT: Well, those questions seem to be appropriate questions for a polygraph, as far as the relevant questions go.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you come up with the questions?

REICHERTER: Well, the questions are determined by the interview that's conducted, and the relevant questions are formulated based on the interview and the issues that are being prepared.

VAN SUSTEREN: Paul, what do you think about those questions? Are those the questions, if you had been the examiner, Paul, you would have used?

PAUL MINOR, POLYGRAPH EXPERT: I don't know if they were questions I would use. They are probably very similar to something that I would use. But I think what may have happened is the polygraph examiners used a very simple polygraph technique, which is his own comparison test. It is the most widely used and most widely researched and most widely written about in the U.S. It being the most simple examination type, it's also the easiest to defeat.

VAN SUSTEREN: I want to talk about defeat, but first I want to go back to the questions for a second.

Paul, those are really sort of in your face type questions. Those are not subtle questions. When you formulate questions, as a polygraph examiner, do you want those blunt question, essentially did you do it or do you sometimes want to use subtle questions?

MINOR: Generally, you want very simple, blunt, to the point questions.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, Zone Comparison Test you said can be defeated.

MINOR: All can be defeated, but it is probably the easiest to defeat. VAN SUSTEREN: If a Zone Comparison Test is done while under optimal circumstances, what is the level of certainty that you can tell deception or not?

MINOR: Well, you have to look at what -- what can happen. First of all, every examinee that is not telling the truth is trying to beat you. And their success rate depends upon the time that they have to plan, the resources that they have, how intelligent they are, the examiners they are dealing with, the type of test that is being used.

In this case, they certainly had a lot of time to prepare. They went to extraordinary lengths to avoid contact with police, interviews with police, according to news reports and police reports. And that being the case, they certainly used, I would think, if they were guilty they would have used extraordinary methods to beat the polygraph test.

VAN SUSTEREN: Joel, what about the Zone Comparison Test in this case, and what are your thoughts in response to what Paul said?

REICHERTER: Well, the Zone Comparison Test is the standard polygraph test that is administered when we have a specific issues, such as in the Ramsey case. Concerning the validity reliability of that test, and the ability to defeat the test, there have been laboratory studies conducted, for instance at the University of Utah and other places, where subjects have been encouraged to defeat the test in the laboratory setting, typically by squeezing toes or biting their tongue, squeezing their buttocks in some cases.

But just saying that is not very helpful. You have to go through training sessions. And that's been done, again, in laboratory studies.

You can defeat the test, again, as Paul said, depending on how good you are, how much you have practiced. Although you can find this type of information on the Internet, the information alone is not useful. It has to be put in practice in the effort of trying to defeat the test.

I might further say that it is very difficult to go from a deceptive outcome to a non-deceptive outcome. More typically, a deceptive person may get the test inconclusive and, of course, they will have achieved their goals if they are able to do that,

VAN SUSTEREN: Under optimal circumstances, Joel, do you think I could beat you in a polygraph test? I mean, what level of certainty do you have that you could get a correct reading on me?

REICHERTER: Well, if you did not go through any specific training, it would be relatively easy to see that you are not cooperating because I would be giving you guidelines before the test of how to sit for the test. And if you were to bite your tongue, for instance, which would be difficult for me to see, or squeeze your toes in your shoes, if you did that in inappropriate times, and either did it too much or too little, the outcome on the wave forms, typically what we're looking at now, would be uncharacteristic, although I won't be able to tell you exactly what it means, it would seems to me that you would not be cooperating. That, itself, might be an indication of guilty.

VAN SUSTEREN: Paul, what do you make of the fact that both passed it. And one of the questions was: Did you do it? And the other is: Do you know about it? or do you know who did it? Does that, in some way, increase the validity of the result, Paul?

MINOR: Well, it certainly adds to that. That would be the way to increase the validity is testing both. And that certainly does add to that.

However, if one was trained in counter-measures, the other certainly would have been. This would have been a tandem effort. And again, I agree mostly with what's been said here. But we're talking here about very sophisticated things. And I believe the FBI is the only agency that has experience in that, that they have I think what we could call institutional experience.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about the two men here, Dr. Gelb and Mr. Baxter, do you have any quibble with their qualifications?

MINOR: I have no quibble with their qualifications. They are both very good, honest, forthright men, and good friends of mine. I have known them for probably 25 or 30 years. But I think the FBI would have been the place to go with this polygraph test. And I would think that the charts and documents should be turned over to the FBI for their review.

VAN SUSTEREN: So these can be reviewed at this point? We can take the test that has been done and have it reviewed by someone else, if this were something they would want?

MINOR: Absolutely, and there are characteristics that -- while I was with the FBI that we found that does identify these type of tests, if countermeasures in fact were used, even the very sophisticated ones.

I might add that a urine sample would have been helpful, immediately following the polygraph test to see if they had ingested something that might effect the polygraph result.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, we are going to take a break. When we come back, we are going to talk to former Boulder detective Steve Thomas and also Pam Stuart, former federal prosecutor, join the discussion about polygraphs. Stay with us.


Sixteen of President Clinton's judicial nominees were confirmed for lifetime terms by the Senate yesterday. There are 36 more judicial nominations in line for hearings and/or votes.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: you can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log-on to We now provide a live video feed, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. If you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.


J. RAMSEY: We've been forced, through leaks, innuendoes and allegations, to try to defend ourselves in the court of public opinion. We have, as Lin said, not one ounce of trust in the Boulder police, and that's sad, I wish that we did. We gave them our trust when this horrible thing happened, and they lost it by their actions that took place in the beginning and continue even through today.


VAN SUSTEREN: Though they have not been charged in the death of their daughter, John and Patsy Ramsey have been on the defensive for more than three years since JonBenet was found dead in their Colorado home.

Steve, you've written a book about this murder and been accusatory in the direction of Patsy Ramsey. In light of the results, yesterday, has your view changed at all?

STEVE THOMAS, AUTHOR, "JONBENET: INSIDE THE RAMSEY MURDER INVESTIGATION: No, it hasn't, and a polygraph, in this case, is not going to be not be a conclusive determinant or component in the outcome. It continues -- or will have to be weighed in consideration with all the other evidence, some of which I believe is quite incriminating.

And I agree with your expert, Mr. Minor, this is not a fail-safe science or protocol, but it is an incredibly useful tool for law enforcement when properly applied. But no, my opinion hasn't changed.

VAN SUSTEREN: But does -- does it not tip you at all? does it not tip you a little bit, and make you stop and think: Well, maybe I was wrong?

THOMAS: Well, let me say this, and I watched an hour of their press conference yesterday. And it did not escape me that they admitted that Patsy first took a polygraph by an East Coast examiner, which showed inconclusive. On a second examination, their own words were their -- were artifacts and distortions that made the polygraph unusable.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let's ask Joel, what does that mean, Joel?

REICHERTER: Inconclusive result?

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, I mean, like in terms of -- does it make a difference that Patsy Ramsey, and I think John, the two both went from inconclusive to truthful telling. Is that a signal? should we read anything into it, and what about the artifacts issue?

REICHERTER: No, I think the inconclusive results should just stay where it is. It has no bearing, we can't make a determination, truth or deception. It could be caused by a variety of reasons, perhaps even not understanding the questions fully.

Concerning the matter of artifacts, any kind of body movement, a clearing of the throat, size, any type of movements of the body in that regard; which can be purposeful or could be not purposeful, can add to an inconclusive outcome.

VAN SUSTEREN: Pam, you know what's so unique about this case is that typically the presumption of innocence is for everybody, but it almost seems like the Ramseys are going out and trying to, quote, "prove their innocence." What do you think about that?

PAM STUART, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think it's good defense work on the part of their attorney.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why should they have to do that?

STUART: Well, typically, what you might want to do in a case like this is to see whether or not, as a result of a polygraph exam, the results come up as they did in this case. And then, if you're a defense attorney, you might want to go to the prosecutor and say: You know, really, you need to give this a second look.

But there are wide varieties, as we have heard from both of the experts, in the type of exam that can be administered. And so a prosecutor is not going to accept a result like that at face value, unless they have confidence in the examination and the person who administered it.

VAN SUSTEREN: But both Paul, and I think Joel said, too, that, I mean, that these are good examiners. I mean, these are examiners with a -- sort of a long history of doing a good job. Would that make a difference?

STUART: Well, it would make some difference, but we also have an extraordinary case here where these people have been under scrutiny for three years. They have a tremendous incentive to try and beat the exam. So there are ways that this can happen. And this is why courts do not accept the results of polygraph examinations as evidence in criminal cases typically.

VAN SUSTEREN: Steve, if you had the ear of Captain Beckner, what would you tell him as a result of yesterday's press conference?

THOMAS: Well, I think he was right on the money yesterday when he said this does not change the scope or breadth or target of the investigation one iota. He still had a standing offer on the table for the FBI to administer these examinations and the Ramseys chose not to follow that course.

VAN SUSTEREN: Paul, you raise the issue of the FBI as well earlier. It seems to me, and tell me if I'm wrong, if a subject is going to be subjected to a polygraph examination, has a suspicion of the examiner, whether it's a, you know, a legitimate one or not: Does it really make sense to impose that particular examiner on the subject?

MINOR: If there's a suspicion of a particular examiner, but I don't think they would know who the examiner's is going to be from the FBI, there may be...

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean an institutional bias, but an institutional bias against the FBI. I mean, suppose I say: I won't do FBI but I will take Paul Minor. I know he was at the FBI, he's no longer at the FBI. What's wrong with that?

MINOR: Well, I think that, speaking only of whether or not an FBI examiner does it or if it's the Boulder Police Department or if it's the Miami Police Department or if it's some guy that recently retired from somewhere, it doesn't make much difference. However, to give the subject of the case, a suspect here, the option of letting them take a polygraph examiner of whomever they themselves choose, and in this case, where they've shopped around apparently from other -- for other people and may have failed that first test or maybe it was inconclusive. But we haven't heard...

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't think they failed, I think it was inconclusive. I think...

MINOR: But we haven't heard from that examiner, he didn't say, he hasn't said yet. But I've seen that...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, then we'd have to accept that -- we'd have to think Lin Wood, the lawyer, was just flat-out lying. And he'd get caught in big fat lie if he did and look bad then. I mean, I assume that he's telling the truth.

MINOR: Well, lawyerese can do all sorts of things, and there's a real slight difference between inconclusive and borderline deceptive or very deceptive, borderline inconclusive.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I don't disagree with you. But the one thing I must say: Lin Wood was loud and clear yesterday, and so were the examiners. They said first it was inconclusive, but if it turns out to be something else, I'm sure we will hear about it.

MINOR: It would be interesting for those charts also to show up with the FBI to look at.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I hope that happens, but we are going to take a break. Where will the case of JonBenet Ramsey lead next? Stay with us.


Q: Why were police called to a Florida hotel yesterday where O.J. Simpson and his girlfriend were staying?

A: A security guard called police when O.J. Simpson was slapped and kicked by his girlfriend as they argued. Simpson was not injured and declined to press charges.




WOOD: They've been subjected to the leaks, they've been subjected to the lies, they've been subjected to having their child's grave monitored with video cameras and microphones, and discussions with GBI agents about breaking into their home in Atlanta and planting a bug. They do not trust the Boulder Police Department. And, unfortunately, any law enforcement agency that has worked with the Boulder Police Department in this investigation is tainted.


VAN SUSTEREN: Authorities in Boulder say the independent polygraph exam the Ramseys took and passed proves nothing and is not going to be considered in their investigation.

Steve, clear this up: Did you ask the Ramseys to take a polygraph examination any time, and did they refuse or agree?

THOMAS: Yes, quite clearly, in April of 1997 when they finally decided to grace us after four months and answer some basic questions, I put that question to both of them -- John Ramsey in the form of two questions: a hypothetical, which detectives will occasionally use, and then quite directly and got what I call a non-answer. And then in the hypothetical I posed to Patsy, she volunteered to take 10. So a direct question was not necessary.

But, yes, the polygraph question was most certainly posed to them.

VAN SUSTEREN: Joel, in terms of trying to review whether or not there is deception or truth at this point, could another examiner simply pick up all the charts and all the information and make a decision, or do you have to go back and -- do you have to be the tester yourself -- the examiner?

REICHERTER: No, not necessarily. Yes, you can pick up the charts and review them independently even on a blind study, not even knowing whose charts they were, and you could reach the same outcome. Presumably you would. However, the quality of the comparison questions could be drawn into question. The outcome of the polygraph is very much dependent on what comparison questions...

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you mean by "comparison question"?

REICHERTER: Well, the comparison questions are about other issues, outside matters in which -- but similar to the crime in which Dr. Gelb or any examiner would be comparing the waveform changes in respiratory patterns, in cardiovascular patterns, skin conductance patterns of the relevant questions compared to the other questions. And that's very, very critical. VAN SUSTEREN: Pam, if you were the D.A. in Boulder County now, what would you by thinking today about this case?

STUART: Well, that my basic case had not changed, and that, still, there is perhaps not enough evidence to go forward in the case. But the results of this exam would not change my mind.

VAN SUSTEREN: I asked Steve whether it tipped him a little bit. Does it tip you as a prosecutor a little bit with this information?

STUART: Well, if it were a normal case, it might cause me to go back and re-look at my evidence. But in an extraordinary case like this where, as Mr. Minor said, the people who took the examination could have taken measures to beat it, and it just does not change the balance, in my view.

VAN SUSTEREN: Steve, why didn't you push the polygraph issue back in April of 1997?

THOMAS: Greta, you've got to be kidding. I had almost daily fights with the D.A.'s office. But due to some long-winded stories, they did not believe in polygraphs and never forwarded those requests for the Ramseys to submit to polygraphs.

VAN SUSTEREN: Paul, in the 10 seconds, is polygraph an exact science?

MINOR: No, it's not. It's not an exact science, and I don't think most examiners have ever claimed it to be.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Tonight on "NEWSSTAND," security breaches in government buildings. Can you break into the CIA with a fake ID? Join me for an interactive discussion tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 Pacific.

And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



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