AUBURN — An attorney who specializes in the study of false confessions said Wednesday that innocent suspects sometimes admit to crimes they didn’t commit if police interrogators refuse to accept their denials and ply them with a more morally acceptable explanation of the crime.

Alan Hirsch, who teaches justice and law studies at Williams College, has been retained as an expert in false confessions in roughly 90 criminal cases and has testified in court as an expert in about 10 states, he said in Androscoggin County Superior Court.

Hirsch was one of a handful of witnesses called by the defense on the 10th day of the murder trial of Michael McNaughton, 26, of Lewiston before the defense rested its case. He is accused of stabbing and strangling to death 20-year-old Romeo Parent of Lewiston. McNaughton did not testify. Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday morning.

Hirsch said an interrogation technique that can lead to a false confession begins with law enforcement officers “breaking down” the suspect to the point of despair, then minimizing the actions that resulted in the crime in an effort to give the suspect an “out” by offering a “lifeline.”

He called that method “very effective,” then “too effective,” because it results in confessions in cases where suspects haven’t committed the crimes in question.

In some case that result in false confessions, interrogators will provide information to the suspect that the suspect will repeat back to the interrogators, he said. Hirsch said one clue that a confession might be legitimate is to determine whether the confession generated new information not previously released by the interrogators.


On cross-examination, Hirsch said he couldn’t provide statistics nor estimate how many false confessions occur during the prosecutions of violent crimes. He also said that some state courts didn’t allow him to testify as an expert.

Justice MaryGay Kennedy wouldn’t permit Hirsch to offer an opinion specifically about McNaughton’s incriminating statements to police detectives about Parent during an interview on the morning of April 12, 2013, at the Lewiston Police Department.

Although certain segments of the population, including children, people with mental illnesses or those with low IQs, are more prone to giving false confessions, Hirsch said that “everyone is at risk.”

Defense attorney Verne Paradie Jr. also called to the witness stand Lynda Gagnon, who said she was the one who directed Parent to meet with their mutual friend, Nathan Morton, who drove Parent to a wooded area in Greene where Parent was killed.

Morton, 25, of Greene, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in exchange for his testimony at trial and a 20-year prison sentence of which 10 years was suspended. A murder charge was dismissed.

Gagnon said she didn’t know of a plot the night of April 9, 2013, to punish Parent for “snitching” to police on William True, 20, of Lewiston about his participation in a burglary a week earlier. She said she didn’t recognize the passenger in Morton’s car that night when it was waiting for Parent at the CVS store in Auburn, but she said it wasn’t McNaughton, whom she knew by sight. She said she wasn’t curious about the identity of the passenger.


Gagnon said the passenger was taller and heavier than McNaughton.

On cross-examination, Gagnon said McNaughton’s wife, who was a friend, had later asked Gagnon to help McNaughton after he had been charged with murder. Gagnon had spent the Thanksgiving before Parent’s slaying with the McNaughton couple, she said.

Before getting into Morton’s car the night Parent was killed, Parent told Gagnon that he loved her, she said; she told him she loved him, too. That was the last time she saw Parent, she said.

During the three-week trial, the defense sought to point the finger of guilt at William True, 20, of Lewiston, who confessed to a friend shortly after the slaying that he was the one who had killed Parent. Other witnesses said True had gone to the site where Parent was killed, but had punched and kicked the victim, not killed him. True was the one Parent had implicated in a burglary before he was killed.

True was indicted two weeks ago by an Androscoggin County grand jury on a murder charge in Parent’s slaying. True’s girlfriend, Felicia Cadman, 21, was indicted at that time on a felony charge of hindering apprehension or prosecution.

The state built its case largely on statements by friends or acquaintances of McNaughton who moved in the same circles he did, many of them knowing him through the buying and selling of drugs. Although a screwdriver identified by several witnesses as belonging to McNaughton revealed Parent’s DNA, no other physical evidence from the crime scene nor from the site where Parent’s stripped body was found in Jug Stream in Monmouth was linked to McNaughton.

In all, half a dozen people have been charged in the case.

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