Geraldo Rivera Live - Tuesday, May 30, 2000

"Geraldo 5_30_00"
Posted by jams on May-31-00 at 00:10 AM (EST)

Guests: Edward Gelb (polygrapher), Daniel Petrocelli (trial atty), Dori Ann Hanswirth (media atty), Gerald Shargel (criminal defense atty)

Video clip of Lin Wood at the press conference:

WOOD: If they had failed the lie detector test, would you not agree there would have been a demand by the public to charge them because the cry of the public and the media would be, guilty? Shouldn't we, now that they've passed the test from the foremost polygraph examiners in the country, be equally fair and say that the results show innocence?

End of video clip

GERALDO: John and Patsy Ramseys' lawyer. Of course, they say that the privately administered polygraph proves that they're innocent. But even before they triumphantly released the favorable results of their lie detector test last week, results which of course have little legal consequence in a murder case - or any other case, for that matter, in criminal law - they have already begun to file lawsuits.

That was the Ramsey attorney, Lin Wood. He's the guy who filed five lawsuits on behalf of JonBenet's brother, Burke. In March, the Ramseys settled a $25 million lawsuit against the Star magazine tabloid. Now they're suing the New York Post and Time-Warner for $4 million a pop. In addition, they're also seeking $35 million from the company that owns the Globe supermarket weekly.

But that's not all. Attorney Wood now says that he plans another lawsuit or two on Burke's behalf, after which he will start suing people who have allegedly libeled John and Patsy. Now, the defamation suits would target the couple's fiercest critics. The Governor has been mentioned, Governor William Owens, and of course the Denver radio talk show host, Peter Boyles.

In the attorney's words: "I have a list. The only person I can say for certain will be sued is Steve Thomas." Thomas is of course the cop who wrote the book. Wood continues, "The Ramseys are entitled to certain rights and protections . . . In my mind, Governor Owens has trampled on these people's rights."

What role, if any, will the lie detector test play in the libel suit? We don't know, but our first guest is the man who administered the test to the Ramseys. He is Dr. Edward Gelb. He has conducted more than 30,000 polygraphs - is that right, Ed? 30,000?

GELB: That's right, Geraldo, 30,000.

GERALDO: He is the former president of the American Polygraph Association, and Ed joins us from Los Angeles. Welcome aboard, Doctor. Nice to see you in this context.

GELB: Thank you.

GERALDO: First off, I must ask: You are indeed the examiner who examined Orenthal J. Simpson in the days following the brutal double-homicide in Brentwood, are you not?

GELB: OJ who? If that exam was conducted, it would have been conducted under attorney-client privilege. And you only seem to hear about the ones people pass, not the ones they fail.

GERALDO: That was my question exactly. Is it that you only hear about the polygraphs people pass and not the ones they fail?

GELB: Certainly. And if I was an attorney, which I'm not, I wouldn't want to be gone after for malpractice for having clients take polygraph tests willy-nilly without knowing how they were going to do.

GERALDO: So you neither confirm nor deny that you administered a polygraph to OJ Simpson that he failed miserably?

GELB: You're correct.

GERALDO: Okay [laughing]. Dan, I've got to talk to Ed one-on-one, but I want you to stow this information away in your mind. Is it not a fact, though, Dr. Gelb, that you administered tests to the Ramseys that they did not pass?

GELB: No, that's not correct. The only tests I administered, they passed. In fact, there were five separate polygraph examinations and they passed all of them, and those examinations were blind-scored by the person, Cleve Backster, who created the numerical scoring system.

GERALDO: But is it not a fact that you administered a series of tests, the results of which were inconclusive?

GELB: No, that's not correct.

GERALDO: Then where does that report come from? To the best of your knowledge, have the Ramseys ever taken a lie detector test the results of which were inconclusive?

GELB: Yes they did, with Gerry Toriello in New Jersey.

GERALDO: And when, timewise, were those tests.

GELB: Well prior to the examinations that I conducted.

GERALDO: So, prior to the examinations that you conducted, they took and did not pass a lie detector test?

GELB: They did not fail; they ran inconclusive or what the government calls, "no opinion." And based on that result, their attorney offered that they take a polygraph test with me without even notifying me that that offer had been made.

GERALDO: So, you admit as you sit there, Dr. Gelb, that another polygraph examiner - and his reputation is what? Will you fill us in? Is he a reputable polygrapher?

GELB: Yes he is.

GERALDO: And you admit that his results were different, significantly, than yours?

GELB: Of course. They were inconclusive, no opinion.

GERALDO: So, what happened between their taking that test and their taking your test?

GELB: Well, there's an adage in the business, Geraldo, and it says that, "The clean get cleaner and the dirty get dirtier." People can take polygraph tests and run inconclusive. They can subsequently be re-tested by another examiner and prove to be conclusively truthful, and those are the results I stand by: A well-conducted examination by a recognized expert. That's me.

GERALDO: But you said that the other fellow was a well-recognized expert. Can we not presume that his tests were as well administered?

GELB: Oh yes, and I've run inconclusive examinations too in my life.

GERALDO: Is this a classic reason why polygraphs are deemed, legally speaking, unreliable?

GELB: Well, they're not deemed unreliable. The accuracy runs around 94-95%. What is the fact is that we don't have trial by polygraph in this country. We have trials by judges and juries. Those are the people who decide guilt and innocence, not polygraph examiners.

GERALDO: But Ed, are you not troubled by the fact that this other fellow, of equal renown, came to a different conclusion?

GELB: Absolutely not. He came to no conclusion, or as the United States Government calls it, "no opinion."

GERALDO: And that doesn't affect your confidence in your own results?

GELB: Absolutely not. I'm very confident in my results, to a certainty of 94-95%.

GERALDO: Did you administer a blood or urine test to determine whether or not they had taken any drugs? Sodium pentothal, or something like that?

GELB: Well, if they had taken sodium pentothal, which is commonly known as truth serum, I don't think that I would have had anything to do with that. They were fit subjects for polygraphs.

GERALDO: Is the answer no, Ed?

GELB: They were not given urinalysis tests or blood tests by me, no.

GERALDO: Can those drugs, of whatever stripe, affect a person's physiological response measured by your polygraph machine?

GELB: No. To pass a test, there must be presence of reaction. If you're going to mediate the reactions or eliminate the reactions with drugs, you wouldn't pass a polygraph test. There's no drug that we know of that selectively affects the zone of influence. In other words . . .

GERALDO: How about lithium?

GELB: I'm sorry?

GERALDO: Lithium.

GELB: Lithium does not select one zone of influence and not the other. The entire test would be affected, not one zone or the other, and that's what we do. We compare zones of influence.

GERALDO: Do you expect to be subpoenaed in a civil lawsuit as a plaintiff's witness?

GELB: I have no idea whether I'm going to be subpoenaed or not.

GERALDO: Well, you didn't come here in response to a subpoena. Thanks for being a voluntary witness. I have no further questions, Dr. Ed Gelb. We'll be right back, ladies and gentlemen, and we'll discuss what you just heard. Stay tuned.


Video clip of press conference:

P. RAMSEY: It was nerve-wracking. I mean, I really didn't know what a polygraph test amounted to. And there's been so much hoopla over it, you know, basically our guilt or innocence or whatever was hanging on whatever happened in this room, you know? So that's pretty heavy. What was I thinking? I had JonBenet's face in my mind from the moment I went into that room and I just kept saying, this is for you, honey, because we're going to find out who did this. And whatever I have to do, I will do until we find the person.

End of video clip

GERALDO: It was a bravuro [sic] . . . bravaduro [sic] -- how do you say that - performance. I don't mean that she was being insincere. She was much more eloquent and relaxed, looked much better, was much more affecting in the press conference - Patsy Ramsey was - than any time I've seen her up until that point.

But Dan Petrocelli, rather than commenting on Patsy, comment on what Dr. Gelb told me and take it any place you want.

PETROCELLI: Well, you know, in Larry Schiller's book, American Tragedy, which came out just before our civil trial started, it was reported that Simpson got a -22, which is off the charts for deception. And when I asked him about it on the witness stand, over fierce objections from his lawyer, he denied taking the polygraph test, but ended up admitting that was, in fact, strapped up to a machine, but he didn't think or know it was a polygraph. Anyway, that subject is now up on appeal, among others.

GERALDO: Well, what do you think about the fact that there was one series that was inconclusive, one series when they were innocent - a later series when they were innocent? Do you get better at it?

PETROCELLI: You know, some people do think you can practice for these things. Dr. Gelb says you can't. Legally, in terms of these libel suits, this will never see the light of day other than to . . .

GERALDO: How'd you get to ask that lie detector question of Simpson?

PETROCELLI: That's a good question, Geraldo. OJ Simpson's lawyer in opening statement told the jury that Simpson had offered to take a lie detector test right off the bat, but the prosecutor wouldn't go along with it, so he opened the door and I closed it.

GERALDO: You sure did. All right. Joining Gerry, James, Dan and I in the studio to discuss the strength of the Ramseys' libel defamation suits is Dori Ann Hanswirth. Dori Ann specializes in media and communications law. Her clients include Star magazine, the National Enquirer, the New York Post, and TV Guide.

So what's the standard? If, for instance . . . you know, there's been a lot of grumbling that they want to sue me. I like to say that I've been pretty accurate in reporting the police and the DA's feelings about this case. Well, forget about me. Steve Thomas, who's just written a book, the former detective.


GERALDO: Wouldn't, to sue him, they have to prove the falsehood of his statements?

HANSWIRTH: Absolutely. I mean, the most interesting thing, and I agree with Dan, I don't know what these lie detector tests are going to do for them. They're completely not admissible in court. In order for the Ramseys to prove any kind of defamation, they're going to have to prove that what was said about them was false. The most logical way to do that is to tell us who really did it, if it's not them. That would require them to submit to evidence, depositions, all kinds of discovery that they've refused to submit to so far.

But beyond that, since the Ramseys are clearly public figures, even if they can prove the falsity, they additionally have to prove some kind of what's called "actual malice" in the law, which in layman's terms means that whoever is saying these things would have to have some conscious knowledge that they're really not true. I think that's almost an impossible burden for any public figure libel plaintiff, and especially the Ramseys.


GERALDO: One second. It would just seem to me, Dori Ann, that what a suit against Steve Thomas would be, or really, even a suit against someone like me, would be a mini-trial of the homicide, who did it, and they would have to open themselves up in a way that heretofore they have not.

HANSWIRTH: Absolutely. And my guess is that they probably won't take it that far. They've extracted a settlement out of one publication and just like Lin Wood did in the case of Richard Jewell, where he used some settlements to bankroll lawsuits against other publications, I think that's what they're doing. Whether they will actually come forward under oath and say what really happened that night, that's anybody's guess. But that's what they'd have to do.

SHARGEL: They're represented by counsel, and there's not a criminal defense lawyer in America who would advise them to go forward and be deposed and testify at a trial.

GERALDO: Dan, you were saying?

PETROCELLI: When you're accused of something as heinous as this, and you want people to think you're innocent, whether or not you're innocent, you file a libel suit. The purpose of these suits is strictly public relations. They rarely go to jury verdict and ironically, when they do go to jury verdict, plaintiffs have a very good chance of success, especially high-profile plaintiffs. But putting that aside, there are so many obstacles in these cases, as Dori Ann was pointing out, chief among which is that you have to prove malice.

GERALDO: And malice is not that easy.

PETROCELLI: I'll take your case, too, Geraldo, if you get sued.

GERALDO: Thank you. Thank you. I tell you, I'll take this crew to defend me. Gotta go.