Details on Polygraphs of Kline, Dickman
By Laura Frank
October 6, 2002
Last month, John Kline sat down in a chair at the Marriott Residence Inn in Brentwood with tubes and wires attaching his body to a polygraph machine.
Consultant Kendall W. Shull, whose previous job was overseeing the Federal Bureau of Investigation polygraph unit at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., began asking questions as a computer screen charted Kline's blood volume, breath rate, heartbeat and perspiration.
Kline had alleged that a former priest and principal molested him when Kline was a 16-year-old junior at Father Ryan High School. That man, Ron Dickman, said through an attorney that Kline's allegations are false. The Tennessean commissioned the polygraph for Kline.
Among the many questions Shull asked Kline, one was most pertinent: "Did Ron Dickman perform oral sex on you during the year 1981?"
Yes, Kline answered.
Shull asked it another way: "When you say Ron Dickman performed oral sex on you in 1981, is that a lie?"
No, Kline said.
At the end of the two-hour process, Shull, who has an advanced polygraph studies degree from the University of Virginia and has done polygraph research for the Department of Defense, read the results.
"There is no question in my mind John is telling the truth," Shull said later. "The charts are real clear. Some charts aren't. These are. There's no question he passed the test."
Shull sent a copy of Kline's polygraph results to his partners at National Polygraph Consultants without revealing his analysis of the charts.
Analysts there reached the same conclusion, said Shull, who has conducted more than 380 polygraphs in cases of violent crime, espionage and more for the FBI.
The Tennessean relayed the results of the test to Dickman's attorney, George Barrett, who discounted the validity of polygraphs.
"I don't have any confidence in those," Barrett said. "They're not really science. ... They're not admissible in court." Barrett also declined The Tennessean's request to have Shull administer a polygraph to Dickman.
Two weeks later, Dickman's attorneys commissioned their own polygraph for Dickman. Attorney Edmund L. "Ted" Carey Jr. said Dickman passed his polygraph, too.
"In Mr. Dickman's pretest interview with the polygrapher, he denied any sexual involvement with Mr. Kline," Carey wrote in a letter to The Tennessean.
When Dickman was hooked up to the polygraph machine, Carey said, the examiner asked questions that referred to the earlier conversation with Dickman:
o "Did you lie about sexual abuse of John Kline?"
o "Did you lie about having any sexual act with John Kline?"
o "Were you physically present when John Kline was sexually abused?"
To each question, Dickman answered "no."
The polygraph examiner, Richard E. Poe of Largo, Fla., found the responses to be truthful, Carey said.
Frank Horvath, one of the nation's leading experts on polygraph examinations, said both Shull and Poe have considerable experience as polygraph examiners.
He said Shull's question asking Kline, "Did Ron Dickman perform oral sex on you during the year 1981?" was an example of classic polygraph technique in asking questions that are direct and specific.
However, Horvath said he had "serious reservations" about the questions posed to Dickman.
"In my opinion, those questions are not useful questions," said Horvath, professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University. "I would not have asked them, and they probably should not have been the questions asked. I think most polygraph examiners would tell you they'd find fault with those questions."
By not asking Dickman directly if he had ever had sexual contact with Kline, the questions leave room for interpretation, Horvath said. For instance, Horvath noted, an abuser might have convinced himself that a sexual act was not "abuse."
Also, asking "Did you lie about having any sexual act with John Kline?" produces chart readings more difficult to interpret because they refer to a statement not made during the actual test, Horvath said.
Poe, a former Pinellas County, Fla., deputy sheriff and polygrapher who now owns a consulting firm, told The Tennessean he could not discuss Dickman's polygraph without consent from Dickman's attorneys. Carey declined to give consent.
Carey also declined to release any further information about the test, including a copy of the charts made by the polygraph machine when Dickman was questioned.
Those charts allow the examiner to assess the truthfulness of the responses.
Barrett, Dickman's attorney, was asked Thursday why the questions were not posed directly. Barrett said he would not be able to respond immediately.
There is ongoing debate about the validity of polygraphs, Horvath said. Only New Mexico routinely allows polygraph results to be admitted as evidence. Other states' courts allow them only if both sides in a lawsuit agree.
Most people know the polygraph as a "lie detector" test. The test actually measures the body's physiological response to questions. It is designed to detect the body's stress reactions associated with lying.
Researchers who look at the scientific data on polygraphs generally fall into two camps, Horvath said.
Proponents say polygraphs are 90% accurate and opponents say they are about 70% accurate, said Horvath, former president of the American Polygraph Association and head of the Center on Research in the Detection of Deception at MSU.
Some studies have shown a lower percentage. And some studies have debunked the notion that pathological liars can escape detection, Horvath added.
Research has shown that if the test is mistaken, it is more likely to be a case of labeling a truthful person as deceptive, rather than overlooking a liar, Horvath said.
The reliability of a polygraph depends on the experience and training of the person administering it and on the methodology used, Horvath said, emphasizing again that the questions asked should be specific and direct.
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