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Analysts Probed 911 Caller's Every Word
Reprinted from "The Standard"
St. Catharines, Ontario, Wednesday, 19 August 1992
By Debra Ann Yeo, Standard Staff
One of the men who analysed a 911 call related to the Kristen French case is a pioneer in the process that enabled police to discount part of the call.
The call was made in June from a Burlington pay phone by a man who claimed to have knowledge of the case and who may even have been one of Kristen's killers.
With the help of statement analysis, Niagara Regional Police concluded the caller wasn't being truthful when he told the 911 operator it was a Firebird, not a Camaro, that had been used to abduct Kristen on April 16.
Statement analysis involves a word-by-word study of a person's statements for clues to truthfulness or hidden meaning.
The NRP released a transcript of the call last month but refused to identify the two people who analysed it.
The Standard has since learned the analysts were Avinoam Sapir, a Phoenix, Ariz., man regarded as an expert in statement analysis, and Halton Detective Dale Stanton.
"There is not much secret in analysing statements. It's basically using a lot of common sense," Sapir said in a telephone interview.
Sapir is a former polygraph examiner who used his observations about the language of suspects, victims and witnesses to develop his own version of statement analysis. Another form was developed in Germany.
Sapir teaches analysis to police forces and government agencies all over the world. His techniques are also taught at the Canadian Police College in Ottawa.
Sapir knew nothing of the circumstances of Kristen's abduction and murder when he analysed the 911 transcript in June.
He dissects five to seven written statements a week, almost all of them related to homicide, sexual assault, theft, arson, child abuse and other crimes.
But his work doesn't require details of those cases. Nor is he concerned with the overall content of the statements.
It's the individual words and phrases that hold the key to determining a person's truthfulness.
And what people don't say holds more meaning than what they do say.
"The main assumption is the majority of people do not lie to you. What they say to you is true but they do not tell you everything," Sapir said.
The words people choose tell the analyst whether or not they are "committed" to what they are saying.
"When you say 'I got up at 6 o'clock,' I accept it is true. If you say 'I got up, I think, at 6 o'clock,' I cannot accept the 6 o'clock. You didn't commit yourself to the 6 o'clock," Sapir explained.
In the 911 transcript, the caller says "They're lookin' for the wrong car, I think."
He refers to the car being "about an 84 Pontiac" and says "It's... probably just a regular Pontiac...Like a Grand. Like a ah Camaro. Like a Firebird."
Sapir, who agreed to the interview on the understanding he not be asked to comment directly on the French case, said he didn't analyse the 911 statement "that much."
"The student (Stanton) that sent me the story, he already did the analysis. I didn't add any new information. I found we were in agreement about what he saw."
Neither analyst reached a conclusion about the truthfulness of the rest of the transcript according to the NRP.
Stanton, who is Halton Region's polygraph examiner and crime analyst, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
He first studied statement analysis at the Canadian Police College and then took one of Sapir's four-day courses, said John Kaster, a polygraph instructor at the college whose lessons include a two day course in analysis.
Kaster says it is such an exacting process that even the smallest of words -pronouns - can be crucial.
He used as an example the case of a woman convicted of killing her husband in Renfrew, Ont.
When police asked the woman to give a statement of the last 12 hours she spent with her spouse "She never used the pronoun 'we' once.
"You can be sure there was a little bit of fiction" in the statement because of that, Kaster said.
"I've seen where people confessed in statements and nobody happened to read it properly," he added.
He recalled a case in which a woman was suspected of killing her baby. The woman led police to the child's body claiming she had seen the site in a dream.
A telltale sign of guilt for Kaster was a news media interview the woman gave when the boy first went missing and before his body was found. She said she didn't know how anyone could have abducted her son because "he was such a wonderful child."
"She used the past tense, but all parents of kidnapped children, until the body is found" use present tense, Kaster said.
He also contended there is no such thing as "verbal slips" in statements and found it significant that the 911 caller once used the word "we" in describing how Kristen's killers decided where to dispose of her body.
The chances of such a word being inserted accidentally are virtually nil, he said.
Analysts also have to wrestle with the subjectiveness of language, how words and their meanings differ from person to person based on experience, background and geographical differences.
Kaster noted that analysis itself is subjective and "There are times we read a statement and we don't know any more than when we started."
The longer the statement the easier it is to discover what is behind the words, Sapir said.
"You can get deep secrets from a half page. If you go to three pages, basically I will know everything about you."
He has, for instance, read between the lines of letters delivered to him for analysis and uncovered such secrets as hidden homosexuality and childhood sexual abuse - conclusions he later confirmed with the people who sent him the letter.