A Lynchburg jury has acquitted a jailor accused of having sex with an inmate despite the jail guard’s alleged confession during a police interrogation session.
“The devil is always in the details,” observed the jailor’s lawyer, who said he poked holes in the state’s evidence and persuaded jurors that his client had been coerced into a false confession.
“We don’t want to slap a rape charge on you,” was the threat that intimidated the defendant into confessing to a lesser crime, according to attorney M. Paul Valois, who represented jail correctional officer Timothy Farrar.
Authorities denied any such threat was made.
Prosecutors contended the alleged victim was credible and Farrar was telling the truth when he admitted to carnal knowledge of an inmate by a jail employee.
The alleged victim had been locked up for failing to appear in court on a burglary charge, Valois said. She was confined in a solitary cell, apparently for behavioral issues. Both sides agreed the confinement was harsh – the alleged victim was locked 23 hours a day in a concrete closet with a wooden bench and a mattress on the floor.
“It’s like a dog kennel,” Valois said, explaining why the accuser might want to invent a reason to be released.
“Anybody would do anything to stay out of solitary,” he said.
The inmate claimed she was twice raped in the cell by Farrar.
Farrar was notified that he had been accused and was told to stay home on administrative leave, Valois said.
Several days later, Farrar was questioned by Lynchburg police Detective R.W. Tomlin.
Farrar had spent three sleepless nights worrying about his job and the possibility of criminal charges, Valois said. “It really hit him hard,” the lawyer said.
Farrar first denied any improper contact with the accuser. Valois said Tomlin then applied tactics taught as part of the so-called “Reid Technique” for police interrogation.
Tomlin allegedly told Farrar that authorities had evidence of his guilt.
“We know you’re lying,” Tomlin said, according to Valois.
Eventually, Tomlin offered the possibility that there may have been consensual, not forced, sexual contact.
Valois said Tomlin threatened a rape charge if Farrar did not acknowledge some degree of guilt. At trial, Tomlin denied any such coercion.
Farrar admitted to consensual contact, however.
Tomlin then said Farrar’s details did not match the accusation. Finally, Tomlin provided details of what the accuser had said, Valois said.
“In my opinion, they misapplied” the Reid Technique, Valois said.
John E. Reid & Associates Inc. of Chicago offers training on police interviewing and interrogation designed to “exonerate the innocent and identify the guilty.”
The Reid method of interrogation provides for accusations, rejection of denial and even lying to a subject to elicit a confession. It does not condone providing details of the accusation to allow a confession to match the facts.
Conflicts in evidence
Valois said authorities had difficulties with the charges because the accuser, without access to a calendar or clock, had no idea when various events allegedly occurred.
Precise records at the jail, including video and electronic logs of every time the cell door was opened, pinpointed only limited opportunities for Farrar to have contact with the inmate.
Valois said the detective had to concede on cross-examination that one of two alleged incidents could not have happened.
The prosecution agreed to drop one of two charges.
The detective never conceded that any coercive threat was made in Farrar’s interrogation, however.
Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Janell R. Johnson told the jury that the victim was believable and that Farrar had abused his position of authority. “She fought hard,” Valois said.
Johnson said in an interview she believed her witness was confused about the date of one of the alleged events.
She said she tried to explain the confusion, but Valois was able to point out inconsistencies in the witness’ testimony.
After a two-day trial that ended Oct. 18, the jury returned a not-guilty verdict on the one remaining charge against Farrar.
To prepare for trial, Valois said he bought training materials on the Reid Technique and researched police interrogation at the University of Virginia law library. He subpoenaed all interview training records from the Lynchburg police academy.
Valois said he decided against bringing an expert on false confessions because it might dilute the effect of his hard evidence undermining the confession.
“Once I realized there was a factual basis to discredit the confession, I rejected the idea of an expert,” Valois said.
Johnson said the verdict was “very disappointing.”
“I do feel for the young woman who came forward, but we have to respect the jury’s verdict,” she said.