Videotaping hailed as tool in interrogation of suspects
Marcus Andrejco spoke slowly and clearly as he confessed to his involvement in the violent home invasion that ended with the wounding of a Clairton police officer.
“I meant no harm. I was wrong ... I know that,” Andrejco, 20, of Rankin told detectives in the 10-minute audio recording. “I deserve to be punished.”
But during his trial last summer before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Edward Borkowski, Andrejco denied involvement in the April 4, 2011, robbery and the shooting of Clairton police Officer James Kuzak. His mother, Jaime Andrejco, testified he was watching television with her that night.
“Officers may be overzealous to get confessions,” attorney Ralph Karsh told the jury. “He's stuck in a room and interrogated for hours and hours. The hours before that and his denials are not on tape.”
The jury cleared Andrejco of charges after two days of deliberations, even though they convicted co-defendant, Emilio Rivera, 28, of McKees Rocks. He is serving 50 to 100 years in prison.
Jurors after the verdict said they believed officers coerced Andrejco's confession, and with no physical evidence linking him to the shooting, they voted to acquit.
The verdict might have been different, legal experts said, if detectives had videotaped the confession.
“There are more cues in video interrogations than in transcripts or audio recordings,” said Mark Constanzo, a psychology professor at Claremont McKenna College near Los Angeles and an authority in police interrogation tactics. “With a video, you have so much more than the words.”
Video recording of interrogations removes the secrecy of the interview and opens officers to outside scrutiny, said Richard Leo, a UCLA law professor whose research focuses on police interviewing practices.
“As a result, interrogators are less likely to use impermissible or questionable techniques, including the psychologically coercive and improper ones that are the primary cause of false confessions,” Leo said. “Recording creates an objective, comprehensive, and reviewable record of an interrogation, making it unnecessary to rely on the incomplete, selective, and potentially biased accounts of the disputants over what occurred.”
Detractors argue that if a suspect knows he is being recorded, it will be harder to elicit a confession.
Nationwide, police use of videotaped interviews with suspects has grown in the decade since Illinois became the first state to require video-recorded interrogations in 2003. Since then, 17 states and Washington, D.C., implemented similar requirements.
“The expectations of the public are such that this is no longer a debatable issue,” said Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. “The public wants this and they're going to get it.”
Pittsburgh police began video-recording homicide suspects in March at Zappala's behest. County detectives will start using the technology soon, officials said.
The DA's office used its first videotaped confession at an arraignment last month to persuade a judge to hold Jordan Bey on homicide charges. Bey, 16, of Homewood is accused of shooting Omar Islam, 21, of Perry South seven times in the head, back and leg during a robbery.
Deputy District Attorney Dan Fitzsimmons, who prosecuted Andrejco, declined to speculate whether a videotaped confession might have swayed jurors in his case. He said he supports police video-recording their interviews if it will help get convictions.
Experts said that if police are going to videotape, they need to have a policy for conducting the interviews.
“Such a policy is also crucial from an evidentiary and prosecutorial perspective,” said a November 2012 report from The National Institute of Justice, the research, development and evaluation arm of the Department of Justice.
It's unclear whether Pittsburgh police have such a policy; department spokeswoman Diane Richard declined to comment.
Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, supports videotaping from the moment a suspect enters the interview room, to show that police properly advised the person of his or her rights and how detectives elicited information.
“If you're looking to promote truth and justice, then videotaping interrogations is essential,” Walczak said.
Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pitt’s new chancellor Gallagher to continue broad role at school
- Oakland eatery Fuel & Fuddle to reopen under new owners
- Liberty Tunnel set to close; other highway projects around Pittsburgh also to start
- Newsmaker: Shirley Ho
- Beloved teacher at 3 Western Pa. schools hears from students across nation
- Feds admit cooperation remains obstacle with corporations, cyber threats
- 30 cited for blocking street at union rally at UPMC facility
- Newsmaker: Brian Stein
- Corbett christens $960K bus shelter, bicycle station in Robinson
- Victim identified in Pleasant Hills apartment fire
- Pittsburgh seeks $20M a year from nonprofits in talks after dropping lawsuit, paying $148K in legal fees