A Hinsdale man facing 27 counts of sexual assault for allegedly engaging in a pattern of sexual misconduct with an underage girl is scheduled for trial in May, after a protracted back-and-forth over the validity of a December 2015 confession.
Prosecutors accuse Craig Wilson, 57, of repeated sexual contact, including penetration and oral sex, with the girl between 2011 and 2014. The girl, whom Wilson knew, was between 8 and 12 years old at that time.
Wilson has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Wilson was first indicted on 11 counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault and one count of felonious sexual assault in March 2016. The remaining charges — 13 counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault and two of felonious sexual assault — were filed that September.
In an order dated Dec. 6, 2017, Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David W. Ruoff put the case on track for a May trial date.
But trial has already been pushed back several times, as Wilson’s attorney, Meredith V. Lugo, and Keith W. Clouatre, the prosecuting assistant county attorney, have sparred in court filings over the admissibility of evidence.
The central issue is a Dec. 9, 2015, interrogation at the Hinsdale Police Department, in which Wilson admitted to accidental “groping” that eventually progressed to oral sex and penetration, according to an account written by Hinsdale police Det. Gerald Palmer.
A month later, Wilson returned to the police station and retracted most of his incriminating statements, according to court documents.
In a motion filed in August 2016, Lugo asked the court to bar statements Wilson made during the Dec. 9 interrogation from being used in court.
Wilson had not been arrested or charged at the time and came to the police station voluntarily after Palmer asked him to. But Lugo argued Wilson was effectively in custody during the “six hour interrogation.” Despite that fact, Lugo wrote, Palmer did not read Wilson a Miranda warning — the well-known statement that a person in police custody has the right to remain silent and have an attorney present. The detective thus violated Wilson’s constitutional rights, Lugo argued.
Additionally, Lugo claimed Wilson’s confession was involuntary and therefore inadmissible in court, in part because of the technique Palmer used to elicit the statements.
In November 2016, Ruoff ruled that, while “a very close call,” Wilson was not in fact in custody during the interrogation. Ruoff also declared the confession voluntary.
But in a lengthy footnote, Ruoff also noted he had “serious concerns” in general about the interrogation tactics Palmer used, known as the Reid Technique.
The Reid Technique is billed as a means of coaxing confessions from initially resistant subjects. Essentially, a detective asserts that police have already determined the person’s guilt, then offers that person ways to justify or downplay the alleged wrongdoing.
According to court documents, Palmer’s prepared list of questions for the interrogation included “It’s not like you were tracking down children just to have sexual contact … Was she curious?” and “Did she ask you or convince you to engage in sexual contact with her?”
Scholars, Ruoff wrote, have documented instances of Reid interrogations eliciting false confessions along with true ones. “Although innocent, an individual may attribute the purported evidence against him or her to a horrible and likely uncorrectable mistake rather than to the interrogator’s deception,” he wrote. “… The individual then considers the minimalized admission of guilt the interrogator has offered to be the best way out of an exceptionally bad predicament.”
Under state law, however, police may use “minimization and deception techniques” and whether a confession is true or false is ultimately up to the jury, Ruoff wrote in his ruling.
If the case goes to trial, it appears Lugo will attempt to persuade jurors the interrogation was flawed, based on court documents. (Neither Lugo nor Clouatre, the prosecutor, returned calls last week asking for comment.)
Lugo has drafted as an expert witness James L. Trainum, a retired Washington, D.C., homicide detective who has testified about police practice in multiple jurisdictions and written about false confessions.
In a report on the Reid Technique and Palmer’s interrogation of Wilson, Trainum called the technique “an accusatory, guilt presumptive, and coercive method designed to obtain confessions” that is not scientifically grounded.
Clouatre has moved to block Trainum from testifying. “The offered expert’s opinion fails to point to a single study showing that the Reid technique caused the false confession,” he wrote in a motion earlier this fall. “At best they point to some correlative studies.”
Authored by Mike Tigas