Saturday, February 04, 2006

And the Oscar goes to...

This week in PI class we practiced interviewing witnesses. We are working on a real-life case from a few years ago, a drive-by shooting of a house in which no one was killed, but a bullet lodged near a sleeping baby. We are criminal defense investigators, so our client is the accused shooter, Joe, who maintains he didn't do it.

So six students had signed up to act as the various witnesses, including Joe; Mary, the victim whose house was shot; the investigating police officer; and a few alleged eye-witnesses. The rest of us were divided into groups, each with a shot at questioning one of the witnesses. It was, by far, the most entertaining three hours I have ever spent in a classroom.

Let me tell you, these witnesses were fabulous. They were more believable than I could have ever expected, these retirees and soccer moms. The instructor must have prepped them, and it really brought home that in real life, these interviews are rarely linear like in the books and movies. The interview is happening a year after the events in question. People are hostile, or confused, or stoned.

The police detective grunted unhelpfully. The defendant, Joe, interrupted his own defense investigator repeatedly to ask "Got any gum? Got any candy? Got any cigarettes? Got any money?" The victim, Mary, answered nearly every question by shouting "HE TRIED TO KILL MY BABY!"

A streetcorner witness was asked if they had been drinking prior to witnessing the incident, and then, as a follow-up, "How many beers would you say you'd had?"

"What, you mean, like, since morning?"

Eventually, it became clear that our victim, Mary, had a relationship with the officer who had arrested our client. But being the middle-class folk that we are, all of the students were avoiding the uncomfortable questions. Finally the instructor said, "Look, you have learned some things about Mary. You have to ask about them."

One brave guy finally ventured in. "Mary, did you have relations with Detective Dogood?"

To which this perky mom gamely responded, "You mean, did I do him?"

At which point, we all howled with laughter. And decided we should probably close the door lest the Software Project Management students in the next room get the wrong idea.

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