Friday, August 25, 2006

Rereading the Duke rape story in the NYT

I was just rereading the New York Times story and noticed this point that had slipped past me when I read it quickly this morning.
The accounts of this accuser’s first description of the suspects, however, are ambiguous: the two investigators who interviewed her at home recorded the conversation differently.

In Officer Himan’s handwritten notes, the woman described all three as chubby or heavy. Adam: “white male, short, red cheeks fluffy hair chubby face, brn.” Matt: “Heavy set short haircut 260-270.” Bret: “Chubby.” The descriptions in Sergeant Gottlieb’s notes are more detailed and correspond more closely to the men later arrested: Collin Finnerty, 20, a slender 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds with light hair; Mr. Evans, 23, 5-foot-10, 190 pounds and with dark hair; and Mr. Seligmann, 20, who is 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds with dark hair.

Sergeant Gottlieb wrote: “She described the three men as 1) W/M, young, blonde hair, baby faced, tall and lean, 2) W/M, medium height (5’8”+ with Himan’s build), dark hair medium build, and had red (rose colored) cheeks, and the third suspect as being a W/M, 6+ feet, large build with dark hair.”

The difference in the police accounts could not be explained. Both investigators have declined public comment. Sergeant Gottlieb, 43, is by far the more experienced. He was hired by the Durham Police Department in 1987 and promoted to sergeant in May 2005 and to supervisor of investigations in February 2006; Officer Himan, 27, was hired in 2002 and assigned to investigations last January, said a police spokeswoman, Kammie Michael.
What I missed the first time around is that these two widely different descriptions of the men came from the same conversation. How does that happen? Being more experienced doesn't explain how these different descriptions could have been heard by two policeman at the same time. Just try to mix and match the descriptions from each officer's notes and figure out what she could have said that could have led two policemen to write down what they did. As Tom Maguire wrote,
No, that difference in descriptions could not be explained - alcohol, flexeril, other drugs, and/or rape trauma had left the woman so confused that she appeared to be intoxicated shortly after the alleged rape, yet she was able to deliver three detailed descriptions strangely audible to only one of the two investigators.
Of course, the fact that Gottlieb wrote his account months afterwards without having much in the way of written notes to rely on might account for his coming up with a description that matched the accused more closely than the other policeman's notes. Can you imagine hearing a description of three men a few months ago and then trying to remember it again in any sort of detail, especially, after you've had a look at the guys who have since been arrested per her identifications? Apparently, this guy took only three pages of handwritten notes at the time, but was able to spin that into 33 pages of a typed report several months later. That is some compact shorthand for those handwritten notes.
Crucial to that portrait of the case are Sergeant Gottlieb’s 33 pages of typed notes and 3 pages of handwritten notes, which have not previously been revealed.

I think Bulldog is exactly right: Gottlieb is going to face a very tough time on the witness stand.

And notice that all those descriptions of how in pain she was and how hard it was for her to move don't indicate anything that was medically verifiable. And, if she'd been treated before for back pain, she would know how someone who does have pain would move. Anyone can move slowly and say that they have a pain somewhere. That doesn't make it so.

Check out KC Johnson, Liestoppers, Johnsville News, and John in Carolina for more reaction to the Times story.

UPDATE: Also check out Crystal Mess's post on the NYT story for a preview of how a defense attorney would take Gottlieb apart on the witness stand.

And, apparently, Dan Abrams isn't much impressed with the Times story.
"I thought it was shameful. I think it was an editorial on the front page of what is supposed to be the news division of the newspaper."
Gee, Dan, welcome to the club of those of us who notice editorials in the so-called news section of the NYT.