DAVID CAMM BLOG: Investigation Under Fire
Oct. 10, 2013
LEBANON, Ind. (WDRB) -- Sometimes it seems the Boone County courthouse is filled with representatives of every county in the state of Indiana except Boone County.
That's an exaggeration of course, but it's striking how many people from other counties are attending this trial. Judge Jonathan Dartt has been using the courtroom, but he's actually from Spencer County, Ind. (Boone County Circuit Judge J. Jeffrey Edens and his staff were kind enough to loan out their courtroom for the duration of the trial.) Many of the folks providing security by guarding the door and taking Camm to and from the courtroom are Floyd County Sheriff's deputies. And at the end of the week they, like many of us in the media, load up their stuff and prepare to make the 140-mile drive home. This makes for some interesting conversations as we head out the door.
ME: I'm outta here. And don't y'all be pulling me over for speeding on the way home, either.
THEM: Not gonna happen, buddy. You just stay out of our way -- we'll be passing you up anyway.
It's all tongue-and-cheek of course. And there was another humorous moment in court today that illustrated the bizarre mashup of counties this trial finds itself in. During the testimony of one of the defense witnesses, a sudden outbreak of laughter could be heard muffled from behind a doorway near the judge's desk. One of the Floyd County Sheriff's deputies providing security in the courtroom appeared to nod toward the judge, indicating that he was going to step into the other room and tell whoever was causing the disturbance to quiet down, which he did. Testimony proceeded without a hitch, and court was later recessed for a 10-minute break.
When the jury came back after the break, a sheepish Judge Dartt informed the jury that it turned out the cause of the disturbance was actually Judge Edens himself -- the judge who was kindly loaning this courtroom out for Dartt to use -- which, Dartt explained, resulted in the "awkward" situation.
"We're going to be conducting the rest of the trial in Spencer County -- which is my county," Judge Dartt joked.
"It's only 200 miles away," Kammen offered.
Witness: Dr. Kim Rossmo
Professor at the School of Criminal Justice
Texas State University
The first witness the jury heard from on Thursday morning was Dr. Kim Rossmo, a research professor at the School of Criminal Justice at Texas State University.
A thin-haired man with a slight scruffy beard and a very short tie, Rossmo explained that he has done research on what he calls "confirmation bias" and how it can poison criminal investigations, going so far as to author a book called "Criminal Investigative Failures" on the subject. He said he'd also done research on the geography of crime, and how, in his view, investigators can hunt for serial killers using the locations of their crimes as clues.
So what is a criminal investigative failure? (Defense attorney Stacy Uliana wanted to know.)
"A criminal investigative failure is an investigation that does not succeed when it could have," Rossmo explained. "It's not about an investigation that doesn't get solved, because some can't get solved."
Rossmo defined "confirmation bias" as "a mental optical illusion which results from not thinking properly" about the evidence in a case, or thinking about it "in a distorted fashion."
"It's rarely that we come into anything objectively," he told the jury.
"This is not an intentional thing," Uliana said. "This is part of human nature."
"We are not as rational as we would hope to be," Rossmo agreed.
He went on to explain to the jury how he first became involved in the David Camm case.
"You asked me if I could take a look at this case in regards to the existence of confirmation bias," he told Uliana.
He said at the time, he only committed to doing an initial investigation and advising her of his findings. It would be up to her if she wanted him to pursue those findings.
"With respect to the Camm case, what did you review?" Uliana asked.
Rossmo said he looked at trial transcripts, transcripts of investigator interviews with Charles Boney, summaries, academic works on alleged findings in the case and photographs of the crime scene. This took him about 200 hours, in total, he testified.
What did he discover about the existence -- or non-existence -- of confirmation bias in the David Camm case?
Rossmo said one of the first things that struck him was the fact that the investigation focused on David Camm within its first 48 hours -- and Camm was arrested within three days of the murders.
"This was well before all of the evidence had been collected, let alone analyzed," he said.
Uliana asked if the way investigators remember someone's demeanor be a source of confirmation bias.
"It could be," Rossmo said. "It's not like our brains are computer hard drives. Whenever we remember something...we distort it."
Uliana then asked Rossmo to describe the concept of "groupthink."
"Groupthink occurs when small groups are under pressure to come to an important decision," he said. He claimed that the concept was first discovered when the decisions surrounding the Bay of Pigs invasion in the 1960s were analyzed. He described it as "going along with conformity over creativity," and added that, "no one wants to tell the emperor he has no clothes."
If someone testified that there was a "wolfpack mentality" among investigators to arrest David Camm...
"That's a classic example of groupthink," Rossmo told Uliana.
Uliana then asked about blood stain pattern analysis. Did Rossmo feel that investigators were leaning too heavily on that in this case?
"Yes," Rossmo replied. "Blood stain pattern analysis has a lot of subjectivity," but he added a moment later that, "it's a valuable tool and definitely something that needs to be thought about, but only as part of the overall pattern of evidence."
Rossmo said the seriousness of the murders of Kim, Brad and Jill Camm drew a lot of media attention and placed a lot of pressure on investigators to find a suspect.
"This was a horrible crime," he said. "This was a crime involving children."
"Once you make a public announcement about something, like in the media, it's very hard to retract," Rossmo explained.
"Do you think the fact that he [David Camm] used to work with these guys -- do you think that added pressure?" Uliana asked.
Rossmo replied that he thought investigators were feeling pressure to show the public they weren't going to protect one of their own.
He went on to testify that he felt there was a rush to judgment in the case, and he claimed this was signified by investigators failing to completely search the crime scene, establishing a firm timeline of when the murders took place and allowing someone who was not a blood stain pattern analyst to make opinions about blood stain patterns (indicating Robert Stites.)
Rossmo also pointed to a failure to run the unknown male DNA profile (obtained from the grey sweatshirt found at the scene) through CODIS, the FBI database of convicted felons.
"I thought this was the most dangerous of the things that occurred incorrectly," he said.
In Feb. 2005, about 4.5 years after the crimes, that profile was traced to Charles Boney.
"One of the most important pieces of evidence sat for years and was not followed up on," he said, explaining that if they had identified Boney early on, they could have searched his home, his car and possibly found the murder weapon.
"It all got lost because the DNA on the sweatshirt was ignored," Rossmo said.
After Boney was identified, he was interviewed by investigators, but in Rossmo's mind, they only "denigrated" the new evidence that implicated Boney.
"I think there were six different confessions from Mr. Boney," he said. "I don't think Boney ever told the truth about what happened...he's only telling the police enough to get around the last particular contradiction."
Rossmo claimed police spoonfed Boney information about the case so he could build his story, and Boney never gave them independent confirmation -- confirmation independent of his own word -- to prove his story.
"I don't see them as confessions," Rossmo said. "I just see them as excuses and lies."
"Boney is a liar," he said bluntly a short time later.
But instead of treating him as a murder suspect, Rossmo argued that investigators saw him as "an anomaly to their theory that somehow had to be explained away."
Rossmo then went on to trash the probable cause affidavit police used to arrest David Camm.
"A very large part of this probable cause affidavit ended up being wrong or very erroneous," he said, pointing to police claims that bleach was used to clean up the scene, and that a witness claimed to hear gunshots.
"The problem here is not everything they believed was accurate or correct," he said, claiming that the affidavit "tainted" the investigation that followed.
Rossmo then addressed the 10 basketball players and their claims that David Camm was playing basketball with them at the Georgetown Community Church gym on the night of the murders.
"The basketball players are alibi witnesses for David Camm," he said. He explained that they should have been interviewed separately by police immediately after the crime, that those interviews should have been in person and they should have been recorded.
"If you eliminate a suspect then you can focus on alternative possibilities," he said. "It would be very difficult to conduct a conspiracy with 10 people."
Rossmo turned his attention to Rob Stites, an assistant to Rod Englert, a blood stain pattern analyst and witness for the prosecution who testified that microscopic stains on the t-shirt David Camm was wearing on the night of the murders were the result of high-velocity impact spatter. Earlier in the trial, Stites testified that Englert was unable to come to Georgetown, Ind. on the night of the murders, so he came in his stead, to photograph the scene.
Instead, Rossmo said, Stites did more than that.
"This is very bizarre that an untrained, inexperienced individual processes a triple murder scene," he said. "I cannot understand why he [Englert] would send an individual with no qualifications to a triple murder scene."
"In this case, this individual didn't know what he was doing and went all over the place," he said, noting that under normal circumstances, the Indiana State Police blood stain pattern analysts would have analyzed the scene themselves.
He added later that he believed Stites "perjured himself in the first trial."
"Now there is so much riding on this that it creates strong pressures and strong biases," he said.
Before the morning was over, Rossmo would fire several salvos at the case against David Camm. But Special Prosecutor Stan Levco rose a short time later. It was his turn to launch an attack against Rossmo.
"Is it true that you were hired not to look for what the state did right, but what they did wrong?" Levco asked.
"I was asked to look for confirmation bias," Rossmo replied.
"Would that make YOU confirmation bias in this case?" Levco asked.
Rossmo compared the case against David Camm to a ship that was sinking -- with him being the man sent to find the hole.
"You would equate this case to a ship being sunk?" Levco asked incredulously.
"You haven't testified in the United States before?" Levco asked a short time later.
"No," Rossmo replied.
Had he ever testified in the "guilt phase" -- or trial portion -- of a case?
"I don't think so," he said.
Levco then turned his attention to the 10 basketball player "alibi" witnesses.
"Are you saying that if they were telling the truth he [David Camm] didn't leave the gym?" Levco asked.
Rossmo replied that a proper investigation of the basketball players should have been done.
Levco then showed Rossmo a video of a "selective attention test." The video shows the viewer a number of people in black and white shirts intermingling and passing basketballs to each other. The video then asks the viewer to count the number of ball passes among people in white shirts. When the scene is over, the video announces that the correct number of passes is 15, but questions whether the viewer saw the person in a gorilla suit run through the screen. The purpose of the video was to show that while someone is focusing on one thing, they miss the "elephant in the room," so to speak -- just as the basketball players could have missed David Camm leave the gym.
Levco then took issue with a claim Rossmo made earlier in his testimony -- that police investigators focused exclusively on David Camm while ignoring other possible suspects. He then walked Rossmo through a number of potential suspects who were investigated, including the Schwan's delivery man and Shelley Romero, a law enforcement friend of Camm's whose home was searched.
Rossmo admitted that he didn't know about the interviews with some of these potential suspects, or their role in the investigation against David Camm.
"But you're still willing to criticize it, correct?" Levco demanded.
"I believe there was confirmation bias," Rossmo replied.
"That wasn't my question," Levco said.
Levco then asked Rossmo if he was familiar with Detective Darryl Gibson and his role in the investigation. Rossmo couldn't identify Gibson.
"How much of the file did you actually read?" an incredulous Levco asked.
"I read everything that was provided to me," Rossmo said.
"By the defense," Levco added.
Levco then noted why Romero was questioned.
"She became a suspect because he [David Camm] named her as a suspect," he said. "They searched her house! That's pretty good, isn't it?"
"This would be a lot more impressive if it had been done prior to the decision to arrest [Camm]," Rossmo said, pointing out that in the neighborhood canvass conducted by police after the murders, only 25 people were interviewed.
"Only interviewing 25 people in the neighborhood is not comprehensive?" Levco asked. He added after lunch, "Do you know what kind of neighborhood this was in terms of rural or suburban?"
Rossmo said he only saw pictures of the neighborhood. Levco told him it was rural.
"You still don't think 25 people in a rural neighborhood is a good enough number to interview?"
Rossmo said it was, "a very small number."
"Is it your opinion that if there is confirmation bias, the investigation is destroyed in the same way as an airplane crash or a boat sinking?" Levco asked.
Rossmo said certain things can derail an investigation, and "I think the failure to submit the DNA to CODIS falls into that category."
Levco asked if Rossmo thought police were "out to get their own" and Rossmo said "no." Levco then asked Rossmo if he was familiar with Detectives Robert Neal and Darryl Gibson and what they did in the investigation. Rossmo said he was not.
"So you don't know what they did?" Levco asked.
Rossmo theorized that they might have been part of the "fresh eyes" investigation after the first trial.
"You don't remember what they did?" Levco demanded again.
Rossmo replied that his memory was "not very detailed."
"How about ONE detail?" Levco asked.
"Would it be fair to say you don't have a clue?" Levco asked. He then explained that Detectives Neal and Gibson were among the first to interview Camm shortly after the murders.
A short time later, Rossmo finished his testimony and was excused from the stand.
Witness: Damon Fay
Consultant and Law Enforcement Instructor
Expert in Police Interrogations and Advanced Homicide Investigation
Where do you go to learn the finer points of police interrogation and advanced homicide investigation? That would be Damon Fay, according to Camm's defense team.
A veteran of the Albuquerque Police Department in New Mexico, Fay told the jury he was a homicide detective for 14 years, and has been teaching the subjects since the 1990s. In Aug. 2011, he said he was contacted by Camm's defense team and asked to lend his knowledge to examining the case.
How much information has he reviewed? Fay indicated CD-ROMs.
"These disks look very harmless, but their propensity is very real," he said, explaining that he's seen "thousands and thousands" of pages, as well as "thousands" of photographs related to the case.
Defense attorney Richard Kammen asked him to draw on his experience as a homicide detective and explain three types of violence: target violence, random violence and spillover violence.
He said you identify a type of violence as "target violence" when you can draw "a hard, traceable line between the victim and the offender," citing a husband killing his wife as one example. Target violence, Fay said, usually involves the purposeful eradication of any witnesses.
He said "random violence" is when "there is no such hard link between the victim and the offender." Fay gave the example of a man shooting a bullet into the air, which then returns to the ground and kills somebody, as an example of random violence.
"Spillover violence," he said, occurs when there are victims of violence other than the intended targets.
"Bradley and Jill [Camm], to my belief, were spillover victims," he said.
Kammen asked if it is appropriate to decide the outcome of a case before seeing all the evidence.
"No sir," he said, calling such an action "catastrophic," before adding, "Every murder case is fraught with vagueness. You weren't there."
"It's not ethical in my business to basically sling something at a jury and hope that something sticks," he said a moment later.
Kammen then asked Fay about the crime scene -- specifically if he saw evidence that Kim Camm's pants had been removed AFTER the murders.
"I did not," Fay said, adding later that it's difficult to remove pants from a deceased individual.
Like Rossmo, Fay blasted the failure of investigators to notice the Boney's grey sweatshirt at the crime scene, claiming that it was "swept up and taken to the morgue" with Bradley Camm's body.
"It was catastrophic," he said. "You're contaminating it as a piece of evidence, and it's future value."
He also criticized what he said was a failure on the part of investigators to take fingerprints on the inside of the Camm residence after the murders.
"I'm talking about an event that should have lasted three or four days..." he said.
The testimony then turned to the 38-40 hours of interrogations investigators did with Charles Boney.
"Who was running those interviews?" Kammen asked.
"Mr. Boney, largely," Fay said, claiming that investigators would let Boney ramble on with 500-800-word answers to simple questions.
"Boney was constantly the gatekeeper," Fay said. "They kept coming to him for what he was going to say." He added that Boney got more info about the case from investigators than they got from him, and claimed that Boney used them as a means to glean information so he could reshape his story. As an example, he pointed out that one of the investigators asked Boney if he wrapped the murder weapon in the grey sweatshirt, in essence prompting him.
"Is that inappropriate for a police officer to ask that question?" Kammen asked.
"Yes," Fay replied. "You don't prompt them or basically lead them to where you want them."
What about recording all interviews?
"Yes, yes, yes, yes," Fay said, noting that you want to make sure you capture the suspects vocal inflections. "You want to record each and every contact."
Kammen asked what he would do if a recording device wasn't available.
"I would take as many notes as I could, and I would really hope that I would remember it," he said. "But Mr. Kammen, I can't tell the same joke the same way twice."
Fay summarized the evidence against Charles Boney.
"There's DNA and the palmprint, the fact that you've got so many changing stories all the time that keep getting enhanced..."
Kammen asked what, in Fay's mind, this meant.
"That you've got the killer."
And his opinion of the investigation into Charles Boney?
"It was very poor," he said. "Boney was handled in a way I've never really seen."
He added that it, "was absolutely...ridiculous is the only word I can say."
But Levco would have none of it.
"You said a quick call in a case is catastrophic," Levco said. Fay replied that it could very well be.
"Aren't most cases solved in 48 hours?" Levco pointed out.
Fay said it's not generally necessary to make an arrest in that time.
Upon questioning, Fay said he believed the Camm murders were a random crime (Kim Camm's murder) with spillover violence (the murders of Brad and Jill.)
"Elimination of witnesses is an indication of a TARGET crime, right?" Levco asked.
"Yes, but it could also be random," Fay replied.
Levco then addressed Fay's concerns about the interrogations of Charles Boney.
"Is giving long answers to simple questions an indicator of trying to take control of a situation?" Levco asked.
"It can be, yes," Fay replied.
Levco then addressed something else: the motives Fay perceived behind the investigators' questions of Boney. Specifically, Levco wanted to know whether Fay really believed in a conspiracy among investigators to implicate Camm.
"Do you believe investigators deliberately tried to get Charles Boney to make false statements against David Camm?" Levco asked.
"Yes," Fay replied.
Levco was incredulous. In fact, he asked the question three times, each time slowly. Fay gave the same answer all three times.
Court was adjourned for the day. Levco's cross examination of Fay is expected to resume tomorrow. And there's something else: we've been told by Kammen that the defense team expects to rest their case by the end of the day.
He said David Camm is NOT among the expected witnesses.
Travis K. Kircher is a Web Producer for WDRB News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.