March 10, 2013
The Chicago Tribune
3 disputed polygraph exams in wrongful conviction cases
By: Duaa Eldeib
Polygraph exams — and suspects led to believe they failed them — contributed to false confessions in some of the most notorious wrongful conviction cases in the Chicago area in recent years.
Juan Rivera spent nearly 20 years behind bars for the 1992 rape and stabbing death of 11-year-old Holly Staker in Waukegan. After three Lake County juries convicted Rivera, an Illinois appeals court reversed the verdict in 2011.
Rivera did not offer a confession until after he was led to believe he had failed a polygraph, said Jane Raley, an attorney with Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions whose fight for DNA testing resulted in Rivera's eventual exoneration.
"He had been denying, denying, denying, and then they came in after he took the polygraph and they accused him for the first time," Raley said. "It had a huge impact on him."
Rivera, whose interrogation spanned four days, recently filed a lawsuit against Lake County authorities and others, including the polygraph examiner.
The polygraph took a similar toll on Kevin Fox.
The body of his 3-year-old daughter, Riley, was discovered in a creek in 2004. Will County sheriff's police zeroed in on Fox. Law enforcement officials told Fox that if he passed a polygraph, he would be cleared as a suspect, according to a lawsuit Fox filed.
But Fox was told he failed, documents show, and he confessed during his nearly 14-hour interrogation.
"They told (Fox) incorrectly that he flunked the polygraph, and it put further psychological pressure on him to try to give the statement and get out of there," Fox's lawyer Kathleen Zellner said. "In these false confession cases, (polygraphs are) used as a weapon."
Fox spent eight months in jail for the sexual assault and murder of his daughter until DNA evidence led to his release. He and his wife were awarded $8 million in a lawsuit.
Gary Gauger, a McHenry County farmer, spent three years in prison — nine months on death row — for the 1993 slayings of his parents. Gauger said he was so baffled after investigators told him he had failed the polygraph, though the results were inconclusive, that he began to speculate how he might have killed his parents.
Those hypothetical thoughts formed the confession that convicted him. An appellate court that threw out his confession eventually freed him, and two other men were later convicted.