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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “UA Press author investigates ‘Tucson Four’ in book, Friday reading”

    Author and lawyer Gary Stuart will be coming to the UA Poetry Center on Friday at 7 p.m. to discuss his latest book, “”Innocent Until Interrogated: The True Story of the Buddhist Temple Massacre and the Tucson Four.”” It is the first book-length treatment of Phoenix’s most notorious mass murder.

    On Aug. 10, 1991, two teenagers walked into the Wat Promkunaram Buddhist Temple, west of Phoenix, and executed nine temple members — six Buddhist monks, one nun, one novice and a temple helper, all of whom were Thai citizens.

    The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office led the search for the killers and assigned a task force of 66 officers to the case full-time. After a month of intense public pressure, investigators still didn’t have any suspects. Then an anonymous tip came from Tucson. The police got in contact with the caller, Michael Lawrence McGraw.

    Investigators discovered that McGraw was a mental patient who had called from the Tucson Psychiatric Institute. For unknown reasons, McGraw told investigators he knew who the five suspects were because he was in the car waiting for them. Despite McGraw’s status as a mental patient, investigators brought the five people into custody and subjected them to long interrogations, many of which lasted for at least 24 hours. Four falsely confessed to the crime but immediately recanted their confessions. They were later named the Tucson Four by the media.

    Stuart calls the crime Arizona’s “”most famous false confession case”” because the sheriff’s office placed too much weight on the coerced confessions and not enough on forensic evidence and detective work. The sheriff’s office had the murder weapon in their possession in Sept. 1991, but didn’t connect it to then 16-year-old Alex Garcia until more than a month after McGraw’s interrogation. In the meantime, Garcia and another person had shot and killed Alice Marie Cameron at a remote campground north of Phoenix.

    In conducting research for this book, the UA alumnus examined the hundreds of records and transcripts from all the interrogations conducted and recorded by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. What saved innocent people from being thrown into prison in this case, according to Stuart, was the fact that the investigators recorded the interrogations.

    “”But many police departments across the nation resist having their officers tape-recorded while they’re extracting confessions,”” Stuart said. “”It’s like making sausage: it’s not pretty, it’s not comfortable, it’s not something anybody wants to see or read about.””

    While interrogation methods do yield results, they come with unintended consequences.

    “”These types of confessions plainly do work. That’s what folks should be worried about: they do work. People do confess falsely. That’s what ought to terrify everybody about this book,”” Stuart said. “”What happens when someone falsely confesses to a crime is that the real perpetrator remains free on the street. The victim or the victim’s family all believe that the perpetrator who confessed is in fact the perpetrator, but that’s not the case in a false confession — the actual perpetrator is out there on the streets.””

    Stuart said out of the 10 suspects arrested in this case, five falsely confessed while only two confessions were true. None of them invoked their Miranda rights because they didn’t understand them. Stuart said one person thought he was entitled to a lawyer if he went to court, while another said he thought he had a right to a lawyer only if he were guilty.

    “”I hope (readers) will not continue to believe that they are too smart, too strong to ever be manipulated into a false confession because they’re not,”” Stuart said. “”Nobody is immune to this, nobody is invulnerable.””

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