Every time, when a person is charged with a crime, his life is put at stake. It is evident that every mistake made during the interrogation, and the hearing of a case may be fatal and may put an innocent person behind bars. In this case, the consequences of this error may be unpredictable, but they are almost sure to destroy a person’s life. Legal history remembers a number of unconventional cases when a certain verdict was passed on the basis of tricks of mind and memory.
A vivid example of the treacherousness of human memory was the case that devastated the small town of Olympia, on November 28, 1988, and held the inhabitants of the town in the state of utmost terror. That was the case of Paul Ingram, who was accused of sexual abuse of his children and participation in illegal satanic rituals. The detention took place “amid expressions of shock from his community” (Loftus 529). What is more, the case involved many other people from Ingram’s surroundings, who were also accused of the girls’ sexual abuse and taking part in satanic rituals. However, the evidence to prove this was not contributed. It is worth mentioning that Mr. Ingram was the father of a highly respected family, he himself was a “former deputy in the Olympia, Washington, sheriff’s office and a devout member of the Church of Living Water” (Olio and Corner 1183).
At the beginning of the interrogation, Ingram did not admit his guilt, but after several hours of questioning, he pled guilty, though later he pled not guilty. He got a sentence of imprisonment and was set free in 2003. Still, the process of his interrogation claimed the attention of a sociologist, Richard Ofshe, who suggested a hypothesis that the reason for Paul Ingram’s confession was that he was hypnotized by the officials who were conducting the procedure of interrogation and because of the phenomenon of false memories that appeared in the course of interrogation under the influence of the procedure itself and suggestions made during it.
It is known that Richard Ofsche conducted the experiment that took place during the first day of his work on the case. He made up a false accusation that had not been recorded by the testimonies of Ingram’s daughters. He asked the accused if he could remember his forcing the children to have sexual relations with each other and his observation of the incest. Ingram could not recollect that at first, but later he confessed to the accusation. This was the essence of Ofshe’s experiment and his main evidence of the innocence of the accused. The task that is topical now is to determine if Ofshe’s experiment, his position, and contribution to the case of children’s sexual abuse were reliable or not and to decide if the case of repressed memory took place.
We believe, that, first of all, the reliability of the sociologist’s experiment could be questioned. Richard Ofshe used a situation that hypothetically could occur under the circumstances of the case if the cases of children’s abuse really took place. It could be possible that the girls simply did not mention the details; what is more, one of the daughters later gave testimony that corresponded to this situation. This is why, on the one hand, the recollections of the event by Ingram could be real, but on the other hand, the girl’s later testimony could be inspired by this experiment.
Among other disputable statements made by Ofshe, we may mention his idea that the defendant was forced to admit his guilt. In fact, Wright says that Ingram knew the men, Vukich and Schoening, who conducted the interrogation, and they bore no grudge against him; what is more, the judge could not believe the enormity of the accusation as well (Wright 60). This situation, when the officials knew Ingram, was even more advantageous for him, in comparison with the interrogation that could be conducted by impartial officials.
One more contradicting thing concerning this case is Ofshe’s statement that Ingram gave his confession under the influence of hypnosis. She asserted that “techniques that depend on ‘relaxation’ or ‘guided imagery’… should be universally recognized as being capable of causing trance” (Olio and Corner 1191). Still, there were no documents that could prove that his state of trance was caused by hypnosis and that the people who were conducting the questioning used that very relaxation technique that could be the cause of trance. She failed to prove that the confession was made under the influence of hypnosis and he did not produce reliable data about the defendant’s mental state during the phases he observed (Olio and Corner 1191).
Besides, the fact should be taken into account that the Ingrams belonged to the church, which proclaimed that Satan could possess the minds of people and make them commit crimes. It is stated in Wright’s article that the girls were regular church-goers and there is the probability that their accusations were inspired by religious beliefs. What is more, Wright states that there were accusations of sexual abuse made by the girls, but they did not accuse their father, they claimed that the crimes were committed by other people they knew, for instance, their neighbor, but the case did not come to the court, because of the absence of evidence (Wright 65). Later, during the trial where their father was in the prisoner’s box, the girls gave controversial testimony and partial disclosure of facts was observed. What is more, there was no medical evidence that could prove that raping with the participation of the father’s friends ever took place. If we take into account all these things, we can draw a conclusion that the girls also needed psychiatric treatment and the results of this analysis and treatment had to be analyzed too.
One more thing that should be taken into account is that the author of the article “Reality of Repressed Memories”, Loftus, asserts that the cases of repressed memories take place mostly in the cases when a person had been abuse by his/her parents in childhood (518). However, Wright gives the evidence that Paul Ingram had never been abused by his parents and the only case of sexual memory from his past was when his mother told him not to “scratch his crotch in public” (Wright 69). This is why there is no evidence of reliable grounds for Ingram’s having repressed memories. On the whole, Ofshe failed to prove that the memories the defendant had were really repressed memories.
In conclusion, it should be said that today human memory remains one of the most complicated secrets of nature. In this particular case we cannot say if Paul Ingram was guilty or innocent, let us leave this task for the court. Anyway, no one has managed to find a way how to prove the difference between false memories and repressed memories so far and Ofshe’s experiment is also very controversial. However, there is a danger that real culprits who commit sexual crimes against children will remain unpunished; this is why the question of repressed memory needs further study.
Loftus, Elizabeth. Reality of Repressed Memories. American Psychologist, 48, 5, 1993, 518-537.
Olio, K. A. and W. F. Cornell “The Facade of Scientific Documentation: A Case Study of Richard Ofshe’s Analysis of the Paul Ingram Case”, Psychology, Public Policy and Law, 4, 4, 1998, 1182 – 1197.
Wright, Lawrence. “Remembering Satan, Part I”. The New Yorker, 69(13), 1993, 60-81.
Wright, Lawrence. “Remembering Satan, Part II”. The New Yorker, 69(14), 1993, 54-76.