Saturday, December 8, 2012

Nga Truong: Charged with smothering 13-month-old son to death. Freed after confession thrown out. Judge finds police targeted "a frightened, meek, emotionally compromised teenager" with lies about medical examiner's report. Videotaped. WBUR.

STORY:  "Lawsuit filed in thrown out Worcester confession," by reporter David Boeri, published on WBUR on December 4, 2012.

GIST: BOSTON — "A 21-year-old woman is suing the city of Worcester after she spent almost three years in jail before being freed on a charge of murdering her toddler son. As a teenager in 2008, Nga Truong, a Vietnamese-American, was sent to jail to await trial after she allegedly confessed to detectives that she had smothered her 13-month-old son. But videotape of the police interrogation convinced a judge that Truong’s so-called confession was the product of coercive police tactics. WBUR first reported this story last year after WBUR successfully fought in court to obtain sound and video of the entire interrogation. Truong was released from jail after the prosecution acknowledged it had no evidence of a crime other than her so-called confession. Now, the heart of Truong’s lawsuit is what the police themselves videotaped in a room called “the box.”.........Four years and three days ago, Truong sat in a cramped room that kept getting smaller. She was 16 years old and her baby, Khyle, had died the day before. Worcester Police Sgt. Kevin Pageau and his partner were convinced she’d killed him:
Pageau: “Somebody hurt that baby, and we need to know who it was, and we’re going to find out who it was — either the hard way or the easy way.”
Truong: “I’m telling you everything.”
Pageau: “No, you’re not. Stop. Don’t lie to me.”
The detectives had no evidence. And the autopsy stated no cause of death. But the two detectives knowingly and deliberately told the teenager otherwise:
Pageau: “‘Cause that medical examiner told me that that baby was smothered. Does that change your story? We have scientific evidence that that boy was smothered to death.”
Pageau was not telling the truth, as he later testified. Lying to witnesses is often part of the playbook for detectives. But Superior Court Judge Janet Kenton-Walker would later rule that the detectives went beyond making knowingly false statements. She found they engaged in a pattern of deception, trickery and implied promises targeting “a frightened, meek, emotionally compromised teenager who never understood the implications of her statements.” “They literally tortured her psychologically into admitting something that she didn’t do,” said Truong’s lawyer, Edward Ryan. “And as a result of that she was deprived of her freedom for nearly three years.”.........The federal lawsuit (PDF), filed last Friday, alleges that police arrested Truong without probable cause, ignored her Miranda rights, coerced her into confession, and prosecuted her maliciously. “This is an example of horrible police practice, horrible police investigation, poor training, poor supervision,” Ryan said. “It’s terrible.” After the judge threw out Truong’s confession in February 2011, Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme expressed full confidence in his detectives. He did so again Monday, saying “I believe … the allegations … are unfounded and that the officers will be vindicated.” Gemme also says that District Attorney Joseph Early validated both the interrogation and the arrest. But Early never appealed the judge’s order to throw out the confession, and he dropped the charges against Truong in August 2011, saying he had no other evidence against her."

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