In 1993 the FBI had a Behavioral Analysis Interview guide which they made available to local law enforcement agencies. It included five pages of sample interview questions along with explanations for detectives on how to interpret responses.
The West Memphis PD incorporated the FBI’s model questions in a 32-point questionnaire used on possible suspects during the first weeks of the investigation.
Two of the FBI’s sample questions were:
8.) What do you think should happen to the person who did this to _______________?
The innocent person will indicate some significant punishment, such as going to the penitentiary or receiving the death penalty. In contrast, if he is guilty, the suspect will try not to answer the question. He likely will say “It’s not up to me” or “who am I to pass judgement?” or may indicate the offender should be asked the reason for committing the crime. The underlying explanation for this evasion is that were he to suggest a penalty, he would in effect be prescribing his own punishment. In the event a guilty suspect does indicate severe punishment, any accompanying nonverbal behaviors will likely believe the sincerity of the answer.
12.) If we can identify the person who did this to _________________, do you think they should be given a second chance?
This is a question similar in principle to the punishment question. A truthful person is rarely in favor of giving a guilty person a second chance, the guilty suspect on the other hand will often indicate some type of leniency or be noncommittal about it.
These became question #2 on the WMPD questionnaire:
2. What should happen to someone who did something like this? Should they have a second chance?
This sounds way too easy. Like when the Mentalist asks the person who committed the crime to raise their right hand. But who knows, maybe there’s something to it. Let’s check how various suspects responded.
Steve Skaggs (5/8): “Kill him”
Damien Echols & Jason Baldwin (5/9 outside Baldwin’s home; interviewed together, answers noted on same page): Echols: “Death penalty” | Baldwin: “Same”
Damien Echols (5/10 at WMPD station): “if for fun death — mental just locked up / should have 2nd chance”
Deanna Holcomb (5/11): “do it back to them / no 2nd chance”
Christopher Wahl (5/11): “Do the same thing to him only in public — no second chance.”
Frankie Knight (5/11): “shoot them — no 2nd chance”
Jerry Nearns (undated, probably 5/14): “Shot, same thing as what was done to kids”
Edward Lynn Lucas (5/13): “Eye for eye”
Tim Dodson (5/14): “To death”
Thomas Polletta (5/14): “Be shot”
Bobby DeAngelo (5/15): “Hope you shoot him. No.”
William Welch (5/15): “Do same to them — [??? ?? ????]” (bad cop handwriting; maybe “give to public”)
Danny Leffler (5/15): “Elect chair”
(This list includes every response I found at Callahan, but I may have missed someone. Post any additions or corrections in comments below.)
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[Added 8/30/2012:] I’ve been informed that this post is too cryptic and requires more explanation. So here goes, more explanation.
West Memphis police questioned Damien Echols three times in the week after the murders (May 7, May 9 and May 10). One natural question is, “Why was Damien Echols a suspect in the first week of the investigation?” The Damien Echols profile page on this site provides some background. Short answer: Damien Echols was a violent, unstable psychopath with homicidal fantasies, and some local cops knew this.
A related question is, “Did Damien Echols say anything when questioned after the murders to increase or decrease suspicion?” That’s where this post comes in.
The WMPD questionnaire item “What should happen to someone who did something like this? Should they have a second chance?” was not an attempt to gauge public opinion. It was a trick question based on the FBI’s “Behavioral Analysis Interview” guide. In general, according to the FBI’s behavioral experts, innocent people “will indicate some significant punishment” while guilty people will be evasive or “may indicate the offender should be asked the reason for committing the crime”.
WMPD officers posed this questionnaire item to several suspects between May 8-15. The Callahan archive records thirteen people’s responses to this questionnaire item, and only one person said the killer(s) should get a second chance: Damien Echols.
This doesn’t prove anything, of course. Echols and Baldwin both answered “death penalty” to this questionnaire item a day earlier. Police asked Echols this questionnaire item twice on consecutive days, which could be considered unfair or unscientific. This “behavioral analysis” trick question technique may be completely unscientific. (Some people consider the FBI’s behavioral sciences experts glorified psychics puffed up by pop culture mythologizing.) On the list of evidence against Echols, this would be waaaaaaay down the list. But it is interesting.