Episode 4: The Confession
This post continues the review and analysis of Amanda Knox’s podcast series, Killing for Love. The review expanded far beyond its originally intended length, and it soon became clear that episode 4, The Confession, was crying out for a more detailed look than could reasonably be accommodated in a two-part post which was already getting very lengthy. So here in part 3 most of the focus will be on the comments and opinions contained in Knox’s interview with British former detective Dr Andrew Griffiths.
Griffiths was employed and brought into the case on Soering’s behalf as a “false confessions” expert. In that capacity he wrote what we are told is a 21-page report to the Governor in which he offered the opinion that Soering’s confession (but which one?) was “unreliable.” The unusual thing about this document is that it has never been published by Soering’s team, when normally they like to launch what they’ve got into the public arena with a loud fanfare and much hyperbole. There will be a reason for such reticence. We can only speculate about what that reason might be, but it is at least possible that Griffiths himself may not have wanted his report to receive the detailed scrutiny it would inevitably have attracted following publication.
However, we do have his much shorter letter to Governor Terry McAuliffe of October 20, 2017 in which he reiterates his view that the confession was unreliable, while ostensibly taking no position on Soering’s guilt or innocence because he didn’t investigate all the evidence. But then he gives a very good impression of wishing to face in both directions at once, as we see:
It is therefore instructive to look with some care at what he said to Amanda Knox.
To Begin: Soering Interviewed by Knox
Soering: “And here’s the irony. If they had let me see my lawyer, my lawyer would have said, “Guess what, Jens, your father’s status as a consular diplomat does not actually protect you,” and then I would have said, “Oops,” and I almost certainly would have told the truth; and on June the 7th I actually told the cops what I was gonna do…
There were nine interrogations over four days [note: there were seven, which included one about fraud offences] and all without counsel…
…the only way to ensure that a confession really is voluntary is to actually to follow the damn law and give the suspect a lawyer, that’s all they had to do in my case; all they had to do was follow the law...
…but I’m not the first person who broke the law here. The first person who broke the law was the cops who did not give me the lawyer that I was entitled to and that I asked for many, many, many times.”
Knox: “And without that lawyer to confirm his hopes that he had diplomatic immunity, and after four days of interrogation, Jens decided to keep his promise to Elizabeth, to take the risk and confess.”
Soering: “And of course I was wrong: I did not have diplomatic immunity and for decades, for decades, I felt like such an idiot…”
All of this has been covered previously, and everything Soering said there is provably false, lie after lie after lie. He began confessing to murder on the first day, 5 June 1986. Throughout his detention he declined the services of his solicitor, and signed Miranda forms to that effect. He could have had access to his solicitor at any time he wished. Additionally, he was permitted to speak freely to the West German embassy on three occasions by telephone, and in German, a language nobody else present in the room understood. Embassy officials would have been ideally placed to give basic guidance on diplomatic immunity, would they not?
A brief collateral point on the absurd diplomatic immunity claim is also worth making here. There was over a year between the murders and their arrest, ample time for a Jefferson Scholar to spend 15-20 minutes researching the subject, but he didn’t, he says. And yet in London he told police about visits to the university library before departing for Europe, the purpose of which was to research the various African countries they might head for:
Soering: “…when we left for Europe we, in days before, we had gone to the library and read about all … and the time before that, it was just days, we read about various African countries and we were expecting more or less … wilderness to .. to go, you know, to more or less wilderness.” (5 June 1986.)
This was a young man who liked to research things thoroughly, which is not surprising in someone with academic abilities. Anticipating their forthcoming departure from UVA and Virginia, he had looked carefully at African options but hadn’t bothered with diplomatic immunity. If his plan was eventually to confess to murders he didn’t commit, was any subject of more critical importance at that time? Obviously not. His claim of a belief in diplomatic immunity can be looked at from multiple angles, and it collapses when viewed from every one of them. He didn’t raise the possibility once in London.
Interview with Andrew Griffiths
Knox: “When I asked Dr Griffiths about how detective Ricky Gardner conducted Jens’s interrogation he was quick to point out that it was unusual in several ways.”
Griffiths: “[Soering] was doing it to protect someone else, and that is unusual but not unique. Then we have the fact of his nationality, um, so he’s a German national being interviewed in Britain about an American capital murder case. That’s pretty unique to say that, and then the fact that this took place one year after the murders. [Indistinct word here] American investigator Ricky Gardner should have been really, really well prepared for this interrogation but appeared to have no materials with him in terms of photographs or documents, didn’t check any of the facts that were given to him by Jens, and was just seemingly in indecent haste to close the case and accept what Jens said as the truth.
What happened with this interrogation was that Gardner entered the room in the fullest belief that Soering had committed these crimes, either because of something Soering said to him before the interrogation started or because of an opinion he formed during the case. And then they interviewed Soering for 12 hours, or interrogated Soering for 12 hours. [Note: it was 13 hours and 21 minutes about the murders.] There was very, very little actual information obtained; most of the interrogation was a negotiation about whether Soering would admit it or not. Soering asked loads of questions about talking to his embassy, about what would happen to him – it was a sort of negotiation phase. Right at the very end Soering admits the crimes and gives a scenario. That scenario he gave was what I looked at in terms of verifying that against the crime scene, which is what should have happened in the actual interrogation. And there were a couple of very, very large discrepancies in terms of the crime scene.”
Knox: “Can you tell me a little bit about those discrepancies?”
Griffiths: “Well, the biggest example was in terms of Mrs Haysom’s clothing. He was asked a single question by Gardner about what was she wearing, to which Jens replied, “Jeans.” There was no further questioning on that point; it was left at that. However, we know from the post-mortem pictures that Mrs Haysom was wearing a neck-to-ankle – what used to be called a housecoat, which is a one-piece garment effectively the same shape as a dress. So, that is a huge inconsistency between what Jens is saying she was wearing and what the crime scene evidence says she was wearing, but Gardner never asked another question about that.”
To take the last point first: the housecoat/robe again. And, and, and? Knox asked an open question, giving Griffiths every opportunity to list the much-touted catalogue of alleged discrepancies. He came up with one, this after 13 hours and 21 minutes of interviews about the murders. Then what about the bodies? They’re often mentioned too. Soering’s positioning of those – sketched on day one, 5 June 1986 – was largely correct, but with a lot on his mind after the murders he didn’t quite trouble to take micrometer measurements.
Nevertheless, Griffiths’ response will be no doubt be eminently satisfactory to all blinkered fans. It never seems to occur to people inside the Soering bubble that unbiased, less emotionally invested observers will be unimpressed by such a woeful argument. In this instance, over a year later, Nancy Haysom’s clothing was something he was very much struggling to remember, just as his answer recorded in the transcript shows, that answer being far more hesitant and tentative than Griffiths wishes to acknowledge.
Before looking at the precise answer Soering gave, however, there’s a very important point that needs to be highlighted first:
Griffiths: “He was asked a single question by Gardner about what was she wearing…”
Griffiths is absolutely wrong to say that Gardner asked what Nancy Haysom was wearing, which he then used as a pretext to criticise Gardner once again. The truth is that the question about clothes was asked by one of the Scotland Yard detectives, Terry Wright, as Griffiths must know very well, he must because it’s right there in the interview transcript and audio recording. Why would he so blatantly misrepresent this, unless it suits his purpose to do so? From day one, 5 June 1986:
Wright: “Jens, can you remember what they themselves were wearing… Nancy and Derek?”
Soering: “What they were wearing… [long pause] … That’s a, that’s a very hard question. Let me try to think. I think, I think Ms. Haysom was wearing jeans… I think, uh.. but I.. like I said, um… it’s… I would say that part of it is very… very confused.”
Wright: “It’s vague?”
Soering: “Yes, very.”
The long pause noted there in the transcript was in fact around 11-12 seconds, which is a very long time in any interview for an answer to a simple question.
That’s not quite how Griffiths wishes to present the exchange. Nor does Soering (or any of his supporters), and it’s not hard to see why.
Here is the actual recording of that segment. The original audio has a lot of background noise and hiss so the sound quality is far from perfect, but the voices can still be heard well enough. It may help to follow along with the transcript:
Griffiths has seriously undermined himself, but his contribution is interesting in other ways and merits a little more examination.
[It has come to light that the above audio clip, along with others from the London interviews, was doctored when played in Killing for Love, the propaganda documentary, so as to mislead the film’s viewers. This will be comprehensively detailed in the next post. There is no suggestion that Andrew Griffiths was a party to the deception.]
Griffiths: “[Gardner] appeared to have no materials with him in terms of photographs or documents, didn’t check any of the facts that were given to him by Jens...”
This is purest supposition. In reality he has no idea what Gardner had with him by way of photographs or documents, or what was checked. This gets to the heart of it. Griffiths reveals that he built a picture in his own mind based on little but what he wants to be true. He has never, of course, made the slightest effort to speak to any of the detectives who were actually there. His remarks could easily be mistaken for those of someone who doesn’t have the slightest clue about how investigations and police interviews relating to serious crimes are conducted in practice. Obviously that cannot be the case, but he makes himself sound like someone who has never been in that situation.
Ricky Gardner flew from Virginia to London accompanied by Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Updike, their sole purpose being to carry out enquiries into two brutal murders. They had just the one job, and neither man was distracted by thoughts of visiting the Tower of London or having tea with the Queen. It is quite safe to say that they brought their documents and photographs, and didn’t leave them back at home in a sudden fit of absent-mindedness.
Griffiths: “What happened with this interrogation was that Gardner entered the room in the fullest belief that Soering had committed these crimes…”
No doubt he had the strongest suspicions from the beginning, the more so after Soering’s refusal to provide fingerprints, footprints and other samples in Virginia, their panicked flights to Europe, the ambiguous and partly taunting letter Soering had left for investigators, and his further refusal to provide a blood sample in London. Gardner was shown the pile of letters and the diary, which had been discovered and carefully studied by details man Terry Wright. His strong suspicions were then confirmed by the extensive and mostly very accurate confessions Soering willingly provided over those four days, which he did not repudiate until 1990, four years later.
But while the detectives were confident they had the right people, when they entered the room it was by no means clear at that stage who had done what to whom, and when or why. On those matters they had open minds and began their enquiries from that position. It was what they were there to find out and nothing was excluded. Griffiths’ assumption about Gardner’s starting point is wrong. He wasn’t there, hasn’t spoken to the people involved, and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Knox: “…we often forget in an interrogation room it takes two to tango. Jens wasn’t alone giving false testimony to the open air. There were other people in the room where it happened who played a vital role in the outcome of that interrogation, and those people were representatives from Bedford County.”
Knox is wrong again. There was only ever one representative from Bedford County in the room, that person being Ricky Gardner. Prosecutor Jim Updike was there behind the scenes to provide legal guidance, but never entered the room or spoke directly to Soering until 1990.
Griffiths: “There was very, very little actual information obtained; most of the interrogation was a negotiation about whether Soering would admit it or not. Soering asked loads of questions about talking to his embassy, about what would happen to him – it was a sort of negotiation phase.”
He did not ask “loads of questions about talking to his embassy.” Jens Soering’s only embassy-related question came after he had spoken to an embassy official on the telephone in German while the detectives were present in the room. Since none of them spoke German he asked if they wanted to know what had been said. He was told that he did not have to give them that information and the interview moved on.
The assertion that there was “very, very little actual information obtained” is also nonsense, of course. Over the four days Soering gave investigators the A-Z of how he committed the murders, virtually every part being consistent with the crime scene evidence, notwithstanding a number of understandable blanks in his memory. Here it’s helpful to look again at what he said in Mortal Thoughts about how much he and Elizabeth had discussed the events at the Haysoms’ home following her return from killing her parents, as he claimed:
Soering: “During the remaining early morning hours we fleshed out our version of Shakespeare’s [Macbeth] plot-line. I told Liz what I had done, so she could confess convincingly how she arranged the alibi. Then Elizabeth described the scene of crime, and I tried to imagine how I might have been driven to kill her parents. She did not tell me why she had driven to Lynchburg or what had actually happened at Loose Chippings, and I did not want to know. We never mentioned the murders directly to one another again.” (Page 69.)
Strange, then, if that were true, how for more than 13 hours he could provide investigators with such a detailed and accurate description of what he did.
Describing most of the interrogation as a negotiation is again to misrepresent what occurred. Soering certainly asked questions during what were quite conversational interviews, the very opposite of high pressure, and those questions were answered with every courtesy and as fully as possible in the circumstances, but the focus was fairly and squarely on the murders. Griffiths should know this because he says in his 2017 letter that he listened to “many hours of audio recordings.” And yet he seems to be trying to lend weight to Soering’s mendacious claim that a confession came at the last minute. It did not. From day 1 through days 2, 3 and 4 the confessions painted virtually the entire picture, one piece at a time. What Griffiths says is nowhere near an accurate account of what happened during those four days.
However, in trying to make the best of the bad hand he was dealt, it is arguable that Griffiths had a small point only in so far as a brief section of the interviews could be perceived as an attempted negotiation on Soering’s part. To the limited extent that it holds true, he could have been upfront in saying what it was that Soering was so keen to negotiate about, and why. That’s highly revealing in itself and not widely known, but it will have to wait for another day.
Griffiths: “[Gardner] didn’t check any of the facts that were given to him by Jens, and was just seemingly in indecent haste to close the case and accept what Jens said as the truth.”
Here, a basic knowledge of the investigative process should have been very familiar to Griffiths, but apparently not in this instance. Having been remanded in custody by magistrates, Soering and Haysom would then be spending the next four days in police cells. Although suitably mindful of the recent Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the detectives to some extent had time on their side, but there were also issues like meal breaks and sleep (for everyone) to consider. Nevertheless, they were able to go from Jens to Elizabeth and back again, listening to what each of them said, the whole process made easier by Jens’s willingness to tell the full story (except for the provenance of the knife). He was interviewed six times about the murders, three times on day 1, then once on each of days 2, 3 and 4, the last four interviews all being at his own request.
So they knew what Jens had to say and – eventually – they would know what Elizabeth had to say. They were able to assess what they had, check the known facts and plan the next interview accordingly, this being on the shrewd assumption that his desire to be the centre of attention would duly reassert itself. Such discussions do not take place in the presence of the suspect(s). The process was ongoing and adaptable, but not without strategy. Often it will only be at a later stage, following the initial gathering of information, that suspects are likely to be confronted with errors and inconsistencies in their statements.
An illustration of that came on the first day. In interview 1 Jens was asked general background questions about his relationship with Elizabeth and the nature of his feelings towards the Haysoms. He told the detectives that everything was absolutely fine and there were no problems. They allowed him to dig a big hole for himself without contradiction, and then in interview 2 they confronted him with the pile of letters, which told a very different story.
After he had begun to confess in interview 2, however, the need for further confrontation was very limited. Once they got started, first Jens, and later Elizabeth, broadly told the truth, their individual accounts of the murders and the alibi dovetailing with striking similarity.
Griffiths: “Right at the very end Soering admits the crimes and gives a scenario. That scenario he gave was what I looked at in terms of verifying that against the crime scene, which is what should have happened in the actual interrogation.”
Soering admitted the crimes near the beginning, not “right at the very end.” During the remaining days he continued painting the bigger picture, the final interview on day 4 being the longest at nearly 5 hours, and the most detailed. Possibly Griffiths might now wish to correct himself, but what he appears to be saying is that his opinion is based on just that one interview from six. Can that be right? The only proper way to assess these interviews is to view them in their appropriate context, and to consider them alongside those of Elizabeth Haysom and the known evidence at the crime scene. That is exactly what was done, and everything fitted together remarkably well. Soering’s confessions and intimate offender knowledge, therefore, are not remotely unreliable and to suggest otherwise is patently ridiculous. They are also consistent with the later confession to the German public prosecutor and the accounts he gave to Dr John Hamilton and Dr Henrietta Bullard, of course. And maintained before the European Court of Human Rights.
It would certainly be illuminating to scrutinise Griffiths’ 21-page report word by word but that opportunity is not open to us (yet). However, based on what he said to Amanda Knox it is most unlikely to be a convincing document. What he demonstrates over the whole course of his own interview is an uninformed analysis full of errors, prejudicial speculation and bias. Were the full report to be as deeply flawed that would only compound his massive intellectual failure. No wonder it’s hidden from sight.
Whatever Happened to Scotland Yard?
Although it should have become obvious, one crucial factor does need to be specifically highlighted to remove any doubt. When referring to the London confessions Griffiths mentions that Soering was interviewed for 12 hours about the murders, which is not quite correct, but close enough for present purposes. He has seen the available transcripts and heard the audio recordings, as he acknowledges in his letter to the Governor. The glaring omission from what he says – as already seen – is that for all the interviews except one, Gardner was not alone. There were three men in the room with Soering, the other two being Scotland Yard detectives Terry Wright and Ken Beever. Only in one passing reference, where he says that “they interviewed Soering”, does he even hint at the presence of Wright and Beever. (It’s also fair to say that it was Ken Beever, as the most experienced man there, who often took the leading role.) And yet Griffiths was conspicuously silent about those men when talking to Amanda Knox. Why might that be?
Were he to state or imply that Wright and/or Beever were in any way negligent or ever acted improperly in the execution of their duties (by denying Soering access to a solicitor, for example), then Griffiths would be taking what could be an extremely expensive risk. Even as someone without legal qualifications he would certainly be aware of that. His interview is available to be downloaded and heard all over the world. However, as an English resident speaking about other English residents on a podcast readily available to be heard in England, there is no doubt that Griffiths would leave himself open to libel proceedings under English defamation law. The most appropriate location for any such action (the “forum conveniens”) would be the courts of England and Wales, where the greater freedom provided by the US First Amendment would not avail him. Make untrue, defamatory statements from England about other people in England at your peril. Safer to single out Gardner instead.
So it’s convenient to exclude the other two men from the proceedings. But there is no question that they were right there in the mix with their American colleague and participating fully. There’s not a great deal that can be said about Gardner in this context which doesn’t apply just as much to Wright and Beever. Hence, the very real prospect of English jurisdiction arises, and warning lights begin flashing.
We should also bear in mind that Andrew Griffiths was a detective in Sussex, a provincial police force of about 2,800 officers. Terry Wright and Ken Beever were career detectives with the Metropolitan Police, known around the world as “Scotland Yard”, with about 31,000 officers serving more than 8 million people. When smaller forces have cases too big to handle they often call in specialist help from Scotland Yard, the UK’s senior police force, which has the necessary experience and resources to deal with the most serious crimes. Perhaps any comparison would not be entirely to Griffiths’ advantage, especially when he has shown himself unable to give an accurate account of who said what to whom about an issue he himself considered to be hugely significant.
In his interview with Amanda Knox he claimed to have been part of a police force of 5,000 officers. This, too, is incorrect. In fact the current numbers are down from a peak of 3,213 in 2010, according to Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne in 2018, who called the 2010 level “unrealistic.” Griffiths would appear to be no more reliable with numbers than he is with names.
Qualifications and Expertise
There is one final matter that really has to be addressed. Griffiths is introduced as a “false confessions expert.” The basis of that claim needs to be examined a little more closely. In terms of qualifications he describes himself as Andy Griffiths, BA (Hons), PhD. It seems that his BA is a degree in “Sports Studies” from Nonington College in Kent, which used to train PE teachers. It closed in the 1980s due to a lack of students. The BA can therefore be disregarded as irrelevant. Nor does he list a Master’s degree.
His PhD consequently has no academic underpinning, which is somewhat unusual. Nonetheless, the whole point of a PhD is that it’s a research degree with a very specific focus; that is to say, the aim is to gain a level of expertise within a narrowly defined, highly circumscribed area. Once the holder of such a degree steps outside of that defined area any claim of expertise immediately falls away.
Griffiths’ own iKAT Consulting website states:
“He was awarded his PhD for research on the effectiveness of training on real life suspect and witness interviews and has numerous publications in this field.”
A browse through Griffiths’ publication record confirms this and shows that he writes more or less exclusively on and around police interviewing techniques as his specialist area. That is by no means the same thing as false confessions, the acknowledged experts in that field being psychologists (joined by an occasional psychiatrist). Andrew Griffiths is no more qualified in psychology than he is in law. To be fair, however, nowhere does he explicitly claim to be a false confessions expert, not on his website, nor in his published letter to the Governor. It is others who always make the claim on his behalf in order to give him a cloak of authority.
That can also be seen in the promotional text for A Far, Far Better Thing, the Soering/Sizemore work of fiction, where Griffiths is pictured and referred to as an expert on police interrogations, but with no mention of false confessions.
(Note, too, that the text says he “investigated the Haysom case…” His own letter to the Governor makes it perfectly clear that he did not.)
The point is then unwittingly reinforced by Amanda Knox herself when referring to the false confessions expert in her own case, Dr Saul Kassin. Who is he? Kassin is professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, a man who “pioneered the scientific study of false confessions.” It is therefore unsurprising to find that he has carried out extensive research into that specific area and written about it from an expert perspective for many years. Griffiths has not, nor does he list any court appearances as an expert witness.
What can be said with assurance is that if Andrew Griffiths were to present himself in an English court as an expert witness on false confessions, any such claim would be the subject of a root and branch challenge from counsel acting for the opposing side. The proposition is contentious, just like the uninformed opinions he offers in this case.
We will doubtless find out soon enough how much credibility the Virginia Parole Board and the Governor give to his views. The chances are that in future the Soering case will not feature prominently on his CV.
* * *