Anatomy Of A Bad Confession, Part 1

Part 1 of a series (See more recent reports)

Worcester Police Sgt. Kevin Pageau, right, and Detective John Doherty, left, interrogate Nga Truong, 16, following the 2008 death of her baby boy. (WBUR screenshot)

Worcester Police Sgt. Kevin Pageau, right, and Detective John Doherty, left, interrogate Nga Truong, 16, following the 2008 death of her baby boy. (WBUR screenshot)

Introduction: A Stunning Real-Life Drama

WORCESTER, Mass. — The world has always had its ways of extracting confessions. The rack, the screw, dunking — a method applied to suspected witches in Salem — the old, recently revived art of waterboarding and the simple rubber hose that gave menace to “the third degree” in the black and white heyday of police detectives have all proven their worth in winning confessions. It was only in 1936 that the common practices of hanging suspects out of windows, hitting them with hoses, and plunging their heads under water were effectively outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nowadays, police departments mainly rely upon psychological tools to extract confessions. If these methods seem less brutal in comparison, they can be even more effective, as a growing number of scientifically proven false confessions have demonstrated.

Final Video Excerpt: 'I Smothered Khyle'

“Now you said to me earlier you were going to tell the truth,” a cop barks from across one side of the table to the young girl on the other side. “I’m waiting.”

“I did,” she pleads, and you can feel the air go out of the cramped room.

You’ve probably seen this confrontation before. Stark room, tense cops, taut lines. And based on the popularity of TV cop dramas over the years, including “Law & Order,” “CSI” and “Homicide,” you’ve probably seen it pretty often.

“No you didn’t,” the detective snaps back.

“Oh my God,” the suspect groans in sobbing denial.

“That baby was smothered. Somebody smothered him,” snaps the relentless detective.

The quality of the video isn’t as good as the hi-def fiction I can see any night of the week, but I am watching a DVD of a two-hour-plus interrogation that the Worcester Police recorded on Dec. 1, 2008. It’s the real thing. And the target is a 16-year-old girl, Nga Truong, who is accused of murdering her baby son the day before.

Eventually she agrees with the detectives that she smothered her baby. It’s stunning to watch, and though it takes longer than the standard 60-minute TV formula, the DVD demonstrates the dramatic psychological power of police to coerce confessions. In the case of Truong, it may also document a false confession.

I got the DVD by going to court and filing motions — the first one by myself and the rest with a WBUR lawyer — and then appeals and more motions.

That videotape was of crucial significance to the case. The police had no other evidence other than the confession. There were no witnesses, the autopsy report was inconclusive, and the 13-month-old boy, Khyle, had strep throat, tracheobronchitis, indications of a fever and a history of respiratory problems, including asthma, at the time of his death. When the judge, Janet Kenton-Walker, threw out Truong’s statements to police, she wrote that Truong “was a frightened, meek, emotionally compromised teenager who never understood the implications of her statements [to police].”

WBUR's David Boeri Reflects On The Videos

The judge reached that conclusion after watching the same videotape made by the in-accordance-with-Worcester-Police-Department policy.

Which was why we were determined to obtain the video. Meanwhile, Truong remained in jail awaiting trial, even though the judge had ruled that the girl’s confession and her other statements were inadmissible.

Truong would eventually win her freedom. The Worcester district attorney dropped the case against her in August of this year. And WBUR won the right to copy the interrogation, which demonstrates the brute force of psychological pressure detectives can apply against suspects, especially when they cross the line established by the courts.

‘Either You’re A Liar Or You Just Got The Worst Luck In The World’

The scene is a tight gray room in the Worcester Police Department. The door closes with the clang of a jail cell. On the other side of the table sits a Vietnamese-American girl. She’s 5-foot-3 and looks like a child. On the other side of the table are two cops. The camera on the wall behind them makes them seem taller. The one on the right is Sgt. Kevin Pageau, of the Worcester PD.

“Somebody hurt that baby and we need to know who it was and we’re going to find out who it was,” he tells her.

He’s moved beyond the introductory stages and niceties. His tone, his aggression and his body language indicate Truong is clearly his suspect.

“I’m telling you everything,” Truong responds.

But Pageau is having none of it.

“No, you’re not. Stop. Don’t lie to me, because that baby’s dead and there’s no reason for him to be dead.”

She’s only a couple of days short of her 17th birthday, but Nga Truong is in “the box.”

The 8-by-10 room has quickly gotten smaller. If this were a game of good cop/bad cop, Pageau would be the bad cop. He presses in on the sobbing teenager. “Now you said earlier you were going to tell me the truth. I’m waiting.”

“I did,” Truong insists, her voice small but emphatic here.

“No you didn’t,” Pageau jumps.

2008 submitted photo of Nga Truong and Khyle

2008 submitted photo of Nga Truong and Khyle

“Oh my God,” she sobs, her voice catching.

Only a day has passed since Worcester 911 got a pleading, hysterical call for help from the apartment where the teenager lived with her 13-month-old son, her boyfriend, her mother and her younger brothers. Khyle wasn’t breathing. An hour and a half later, a doctor at nearby Saint Vincent Hospital pronounced him dead.

Pageau punches the point. “That baby was smothered. Somebody smothered him… you have some bad luck watching kids.”

“Bad luck” is Pageau’s stinging reference to another death where Truong was present. Eight years earlier, when she was only 8 years old, her mother, Van Truong, left town and left her alone to look after her 3-month-old brother, Hein. When Hein suddenly became unconscious, his sister brought the infant to a downstairs neighbor. A call went out to 911, but it was too late. Hein could not be revived. The cause of death, ruled the medical examiner, was sudden infant death syndrome.

Then, eight years later, in 2008, when detectives look through police files and discover the earlier death, they have jumped to the conclusion: Truong has killed both her baby and her brother. Pageau’s voice turns into a snarl. Here’s the transcript:

“Your brother, how did he pass away?”

“Sudden death syndrome.”

“There’s no sudden death syndrome. Sudden death syndrome… how about big sister syndrome?

“You were watching him when he died … in your care. That baby mysteriously dies. And now, Khyle’s in your care, and he mysteriously dies. Either you’re a liar or you just got the worst luck in the world. How do you think a jury’s going to see that?”

A detective’s job is to collect facts. And of necessity that often puts them in confrontation with the people they question. “We represent the victims” is how homicide detectives often describe their role.

But for a teenage girl whose baby has been dead for no more than a day and a couple of hours, who pleads and cries through much of the interview, her attorney, Ed Ryan, has another description of what the cops are doing.

“This was psychological torture, is the best way to describe what they did to this young woman,” Ryan says. “This video should be used as an example of what not to do.”

Ryan, a past president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, calls this the worst case of coercion he’s seen in 35 years.

“Their interrogation was designed not to determine the truth, not to get at the facts,” he says. “Their intention was designed to force her to confess to doing it in the way they figure she did it. They are the ones that force-fed her the word ‘suffocation’ ” — and the word “smother.”

“It’s shocking that they didn’t take the time to consider there may have been an alternative reason for the child’s death,” Ryan says.

But Ryan is not present for the girl’s interrogation. Though the detectives have read Truong her right to have a lawyer present, they have failed to follow proper procedures, a judge later will later rule. So Truong has waived the rights she does not understand — and therefore hasn’t waived her rights at all.

Here in the interrogation room with the door closed, the detectives press on, intending to isolate Truong even further from denial or escape.

“‘Cause that medical examiner told me that that baby was smothered,” Pageau informs Truong. “Does that change your story? We have scientific evidence — one day after his death and believe me we’re still doing tests — I can tell you that that boy was smothered.” Then he adds with a punctuation point: “To death.”

In fact, none of that statement is true. Doctors and the medical examiner have told Pageau no such thing. In the courtroom language of black robes, his statements are “knowingly false.” In the language Pageau uses in the box with Truong, he is “lying.” But that too is part of the playbook. According to conventional training manuals for detectives, the purpose of interrogation is to get the suspect to incriminate herself or, better yet, make a full confession. Confessions are considered the queen of criminal evidence.

“Please believe me,“ comes the plea from the other side of the table.

“I don’t believe you,” Pageau retorts, “because I believe the scientists, I believe the doctors.”

Pageau knows, as he will later testify, that at the time of this interrogation the manner of Khyle’s death is “undetermined.” The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy just a few hours earlier has stated no cause of death. The child has shown no sign of injuries and his elevated body temperature after death (101 degrees Fahrenheit one hour after being declared dead) indicates, as Truong said, that her baby had a fever. And Khyle had a history of asthma. But in the box, the detectives betray no doubt.

“And I know how he died, which is why we are here,” Pageau continues.

I played those false statements and the rest of the tape for William Powers, a retired state detective who’s interviewed thousands of suspects and has trained countless detectives, as he now does at the Boston University School of Medicine.

“The court views all statements as to whether they were given voluntarily or coerced or not,” Powers explains. “One of the main factors that they look at is lying. And while they have never said flat out, ‘You cannot lie,’ it’s a real negative factor with the courts.”

Worse than one lie, Powers says, is two lies. In the case of Pageau and his fellow detective, John Doherty, the quiet man here who largely plays the role of good cop, the lies come in a stream. Yet they accuse Truong of lying to them every time she says she didn’t kill her baby.

“Cut the [expletive],” Pageau shouts at her at one point, to which Truong cries, “I‘m not lying.”

I also played the videotape for retired state Superior Court Judge Robert Barton, who in his long career presided over 150 murder trials and had the no-nonsense reputation of a former Marine.

“It was amazing to see that videotape and to see how they operated,” Barton said. “They started off with the presumption she was guilty, it was as simple as that. And therefore that’s how they operated.”

The detectives are as closed as the door is to alternative explanations.

Returning to Truong’s dead brother, Pageau tells her, “If you think this is going to be like that other baby that you were watching so well, you’re sadly mistaken. And you may have gotten away with it once. But you ain’t getting away with it this time.”

Detective manuals call this theme “maximization.” It’s meant to convey to the suspect the hopelessness of her situation. Continued denials will fail. Continued denials may even bring harsher consequences, as the detective warns his suspect. Detectives employ a veritable bullpen of interview themes. They’re like managers with relief pitchers — when one doesn’t work, they call in another.

Pageau’s partner, Detective Doherty, now switches from “maximization” to “minimization.” He offers Truong sympathy and plays down her responsibility. After all, he tells her, “you’re just a kid.”

“People will be much more understanding if you come forward and say, ‘I’m a 16-year-old girl, I lost it, this is what happened,’ than if the medical examiner has to get up there and testify, ‘This is what happened,’ and you’re still saying, ‘I don’t know what happened,’ OK?”

From their visit to the Truongs’ apartment and a check with the Department of Children and Families, the police have come to the opinion that the family is “dysfunctional.” The house is a mess. The police call Truong’s mother, who is only 14 years older, unfit. The state found she was neglectful after Truong’s brother died, and Truong, who ran away from home a year before, has had to do the work of not only caring for her baby but raising her four brothers and even changing her baby brother’s diapers.

“That ain’t right,” Doherty tells her. “That would make anybody angry, your mother’s laying in bed and telling you to go get a diaper, put a diaper on her kid,” to which Pageau adds: “Do this, do that. Feed ‘em. Take care of them.”

He continues to exploit the antagonism between Truong and her mother.

“It’s not fair to you,” Pageau says, softening his tone. “It’s not fair to you. You’re a kid. You should be able to be a kid. Right?”

By blaming Truong’s mother, the detectives make it seem they are giving Truong an excuse — this is part of the “minimization” — while at the same time they are dangling a motive for why she did what they accuse her of doing. Here’s more of the transcript:

Pageau: “‘Cause we know you’re pissed because you have to keep taking care of your mother’s kids, and you didn’t have a chance to be a kid. That’s why you smothered Khyle, didn’t you?”

“I did not.”

“That’s why you smothered him, didn’t you?”

“I would never kill him.”

The Inducements, And The Interrogation Turns

One way to extract a confession is to make it seem like an easier way of escaping the anxiety and stress of interrogation than continued denial. Once again the detectives pick up on the “you’re only a kid” theme. This time, Pageau makes an offer of help if she does confess.

“All everyone’s waiting for today is for you to admit to what you did so that we can start the process of getting you some help, getting your brothers out of that house, and getting them in a better home, where there’s a mom that gets up in the morning and takes care of them,” Pageau says.

“What kind of help am I going to get?” Truong asks a few minutes later.

It’s the sign that tells detectives they are close. Pageau tells her there are women on the other side of the door who help children “like you.” There are no women on the other side of the door. But Pageau presses closer.

“Tell us what happened,” he says, so “we can get help for your brothers [and you].”

And quietly, like sharing a confidence, he tells Truong she will get help and leniency in the juvenile court.

“Keep it in the juvenile court. Keep it in the juvenile system, where punishment is minimal, if any, let’s say there is any.” Confess and you will go into the juvenile system, he’s promising, where “punishment is minimal, if any.”

Powers, our expert detective, says the Worcester cops have crossed a big, bright line of the law.

“We can’t make promises. We can’t say we will do things that we can’t do,” Powers states. “When it comes to where children will wind up or where she’ll end up, that’s not our call. To say she will be tried as a juvenile versus as an adult, that’s not our call, that’s the call of the DA’s office.”

In the Worcester Police Department on Dec. 1, 2008, lies, promises and inducements — as they will later be called — now lead to a dramatic moment for a grieving teenage juvenile who doesn’t have an attorney and doesn’t understand her right to have one, as a judge will later rule.

“Do I have to say it?” she asks in a whisper.

“You do,” the sergeant says in an even lower voice.

Thirteen times she has said she didn’t kill her son. Sixty seconds of quiet sobbing transfix the room.

“I smothered Khyle,” comes the barely audible response.

“You smothered Khyle,” Pageau repeats.

When he asks her if she knows why she smothered Khyle, she says “no.” Her head drops.

“What did you smother him with?” Doherty asks. One of the stuffed bears, she says, but she can’t identify which one.

Shortly after, she asks, “Is it OK if I leave now?”

Of course, it has been her right to leave at any point during the interrogation, though the detectives haven’t told her that since the start, when by failing to give her proper Miranda warnings, they gave her warnings she did not understand, the judge will later rule.

“Sit tight,” they tell her. They leave her alone for 18 minutes.

When the detectives come back, she asks, “Will me and my brothers get to go to foster care?” That had been the promise she heard them make before she told them what they had pressed her to say.

Instead, they tell her they’re taking her upstairs and putting her under arrest. She looks at them in surprise; she’s already told them she has to leave to plan her son’s funeral.

“[That] shows what was going on in her mind at the time,” says Powers, the trainer of detectives. “Which is: ‘I will make the admission and I can go forward in my life and my brothers can go forward in their lives,’ not processing at 16 years old that she’s just admitted to a homicide.”

Truong is clueless.

“This has to be today?” she asks.

“It has to be today,” Pageau responds.

She becomes upset. “Is it going to be more than a day?”

It was more than a day. It was two and a half years.

She never got to her baby’s funeral. And remember the detectives’ promises that if she confessed she would go into the juvenile system? Nga Truong was charged as an adult — with murder.

We now know, because a Superior Court judge has so ruled, that her statements were involuntary. They were the product of coercion. So Truong’s statements were suppressed. But on the day of her arraignment on Dec. 2, 2008, reporters focused on her alleged confession, which, according to Worcester Police, only came after initial denials.

That confession may be the only lie she told.

So far, there’s been no comment from Worcester Police. There’ll be more on that Thursday. On Thursday, David interviews Nga Truong, explores how the case fell apart, and considers what, if anything, has changed in the Worcester Police Department and the DA’s office.

Updated 2/16/12:

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on wbur.org.
  • Jpgray

    This is absolutely disgusting. It just shows me that most cops aren’t interested in justice or even catching real criminals. they just want to be in a position where they can exert power over people in helpless situations. It’s pathetic and these men should lose their jobs. If there’s any justice in the world they’ll be locked up themselves.

    • Hayduke

      Two words:   Pulitzer. Prize.

      • Longsmith

        I concur. Boeri is just terrific.

    • Cop

      “most cops aren’t interested in justice or even catching real criminals”?? Are you basing your expert opinion on this story? As a police officer myself, I have to say that is one of the most ignorant statements I’ve heard in a long time. Yes, what these two did to this young woman may have been reprehensible, but I assure you, the heroic deeds performed by police officers far outnumber the corrupt ones; you just don’t hear about them in the media.

      • Guest

        Sir Cop – I think the poster means only that cops may conger up some ideas and spend the rest of their efforts trying to confirm that theory rather than actually devote time and resources to hunting around for actual facts. As happened in this case.  This is hardly a “one – off” you gotta admit.

      • Joe110

        Stop telling us Cops are something special. It has been shown again and again that many cops are borderline to criminals and look at the law as something to go around. Unfortunately we are almost a police state where cops can act as if above the law. Just one minor example: All these cop cars running the horn just to get around a traffic light and endangering the rest of the traffic when they have really no case. We need a strong control of cop practises. The fact that the Worcester police department has the statement on their site that the cops are still perfurming with full support of the police administration shows that cops cannot police themselves.

  • Guest

    Thank you for producing this story. It’s heartbreaking to hear. If your story can go a little way towards eliminating immoral behavior like this on the part of police, it will have done a world of good.

  • Em159

    Is what the police did illegal? It certainly seems so. I was shaking with rage when i heard the story. That poor girl. I also believe that the police need to be responsible for their iimmoral, outrageous behavior.

    • Guest

      It’s not even called an interrogation — it’s called an “interview”. How’s that for a euphemism? It certainly shouldn’t be legal.

  • Guest

    Consider this case in comparison to what happened to Amy Bishop when she most likely actually did murder her brother.  Let’s not dismiss the possibility of racism and class discrimination in this case.  This girl’s story is truly horrifying and tragic.  Many thanks to WBUR and David Boeri for sticking with it and bringing it to light.

  • Lawrence Rosenthal

    There are many genetically mediated syndromes that can cause sudden infant death. In the presence of these syndromes, sudden death is even more common with fever and the stress of illness. Did anyone ever consider Brugada Syndrome. Its previlence is much higher in populations from southeast Asia.

    • Guest

      Yes!!!   As a cardiologist and mother listening to this story, I truly hope this possibility (Brugada or similar genetic arrhythmia) is or was explored.   It does appear to run in some Asians, particularly male, and in the setting of fever.  Although not all the genetic diseases associated with sudden cardiac death can be diagnosed at this point in time, it could explain everything and perhaps help open the eyes and minds of people such as “unfortunate truth”.    Most importantly, if Nga or her brothers ever wish to (re)start a family it could prevent future tragedies.   

  • Anne M Hudson

    This was disturbing to listen to.  Were provisions made for the young woman’s level of English comprehension?  Why was a 16-year-old girl questioned unaccompanied by counsel or at least an adult relation?  The “interview” with the young woman sounds like legalized thuggery to me.  I’m grateful to David Boeri for this investigative report. 

  • Neena

    Who do these cops think they are?! They’ve watched way too much tv. They should be investigated immediately. Why didn’t this vulnerable woman have a lawyer during this psychological torture? 

  • College_vathiyar

    What a horrible story! It was difficult to listen to this story with my 10 year old daughter in the car on the way to school this morning. I had half a mind to turn it off, but didn’t thinking we both might learn something from it, including that authority figures aren’t always to be trusted. This is an epic tragedy. So the policeman in question is going to go away scott free? What an outrage!

  • Guest

    US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, are you listening to this? The Justice Department needs to investigate this immediately. What other cases has Sgt. Pageau worked on? Has he extracted other “confessions”?

  • Ieshamatos

    i personally know nga and she is a loving person who would NEVER do anything hurtful to her son she loved him so much nothing else mattered and for that asshole of a cop to treat her that way just so he could get a FALSE confession was complete bullshit yes he’s doing his job but he can go to hell she was sixteen and just lost the most important thing to her and for him to cause he to confess only makes me believe she was scared enough of him she said it to get him away from her. she was innocent from the beginning its the cops who are guilty. oh and wheres her lawyer? answer that one. Nga is innnocent and i stand by her

  • Nga Truong

    to mr.boeri, i thank you for doing my story. when i came onto your website, i didnt know what to expect.i didnt know what i will feel. but i felt anger and sadness.you spoke up for me and for those who were falsely accused of doing what they didnt do.i may not know alot about the system and how things works, but i did learned one thing out of this whole ordeal. that when you know the truth, stick to it. if i wouldve done that, i would’ve gained back the 2 and 8 months of my life back in the community. but its alright now because i’am still heading to the right path. and for those wondering how am i doing? iam currently i school and got a job. my life isnt complete without Khyle but iam living it like im suppose to.

    • Guest

      Dear Nga, 

      Wonderful to hear you are doing well. As a fellow American, I am so sorry for what the Worcester Police and the DA put you through. You should have had a lawyer from the beginning. The police should never have lied during the interrogation to extract a false confession. The DA should have immediately dropped the case after seeing this tape. The fact that you spent almost three years in prison until this case was dropped is shocking.

      Condolences on the loss of your son. May you find some light at the end of this dark ordeal and have a better life.

      • Anonymous

        in Fullerton Ca. the DA won t prosecute cops who brought false charges, lied in court and on their reports. they kept the guy in jail 5 months trying to get him to cop out.  when a bystander video proved they were lying bullies in court, still nothing happened.  a little while later two involved murdered a homeless guy.   if you ask them though they will swear up and down they are the good guys, heros even and we MUST respect their bs.

    • Dot

      I am so sorry this happened to you and that the men who were supposed to protect the law and protect you in fact framed you and set you up.  I wish you were the only person this has happened to but I suspect, that’s simply not true.

    • Joe110

      I hope your lawyers will file a lawsuit agains the Worcester police. There is a case for for it under a federal lawsuit. It is only right to teach the Worcester police that they have to pay for adopting practises by cops outside of our laws. These cops should face criminal charges because there practise caused you to go behind bars and lose your freedom. Good Luck.

      • Anonymous

        i would expect they would.  they will of course be dogged by the police, maybe some more false charges,  lots of driving by the house with the ol stink eye.  am i right piggys?

    • Doubting_Thomas


      I was heartbroken to hear what happened, but very glad that you have the strength to get back on the right track so quickly afterwards. Good luck and God bless; our thoughts and prayers are with you. All the best for you and your family!


    To Nga ,

  • unfortunate truth

    This story is so one sided that it should be considered propaganda.  The person writing it should be put in jail. 
    SIDS deaths are for 13 day old babies not 13 months.  My kids were walking at 10 months and playing around a playground at 13 months.
    It is a tragedy that this child was killed and the cops must have  known the mother was involved or was the last person with the child. Regrettably there is no way to prove it without her admitting it and society has a hard time convicting a mother. If it happened at a day care facility people would more upset that a child was killed.
    Those unfamiliar with these cases are “clueless” as to the frequency with which mothers kill there own children. In most cases the mystery as why they did it can never fully be answered.

    • concerned citizen

      SIDS deaths occur most commonly at 4-6 months, but can definitely occur later; research is still investigating why, but for some children it may be related to brain abnormalities and babies with respiratory problems and infections are also at greater risk.  Sometimes even children over 2 die suddenly and without definable cause.  Since our justice system does presume innocence, these options must be explored in a meaningful way.

      This child had a demonstrable respiratory infection, a fever, and asthma–consider Occam’s razor–this seems the most likely explanation for his death.  Child mortality used to be much higher because of these types of infections until the advent of antibiotics and other modern therapies. 

      In any case, this type of interrogation is egregious.  I think most persons in society have no problem convicting anyone of murder, including mothers, should circumstances warrant.  But this case is far from open and shut.  The defednat’s staements seem much more credible than theofficers who knowingly are lying and subverting the legal process.

    • Robert Kinstler

      This is one reason I value the comments section of these stories so much.  You can read about authoritarian followers in academic literature (e.g. K. Stenner, Princeton U.; R. Altemyer, U. of Manitoba; M. Hetherington, Vanderbilt U.) but it is so helpful to read the unmediated thoughts of a prototypical example.  I will only highlight two statements by “unfortunate truth”.  “The person writing it should be put in jail.”  The aggressive response to a perceived normative threat is just what Stenner found to be the defining characteristic. “…[T]he cops must have known [that] the mother was involved or was the last person with the child.”  “Must have known” illustrates submission to legitimated authorities beautifully.  Hedging their assertion with, “or was the last person with the child”, suggests some compartmentalized thinking going on here. 
      Thanks for the object lesson.

      • Guest

        Nicely unpacked, Mr. Kinstler! Great post.

    • JMLawrence

      Frankly, you should be outraged at these cops if you think this woman was guilty (which I do not.) They bungled this case so badly that the DA could not prosecute. Watching this botched interrogation is like watching bad surgeons butchering a patient. They blew it.

    • http://twitter.com/RadioBoston Radio Boston

      You’ve misread a crucial detail. Troung’s brother was found to have died of SIDS. The cause of her son’s death was not determined.

    • listen

      The one thing that I don’t think was mentioned in the afternoon piece but was mentioned this morning, and you can figure out by doing the math: she was 8 years old when her brother died.  I’ll grant thtat it’s not impossible, but I have a lot of trouble believing that an 8 year old doing what the officers implied she did.  Also, it wasn’t the girl, a lawyer, or a reporter who said that the cause was SIDS, it was the official investigator, one I’m sure used by the police.

    • donnyt

      Dude, you’re missing the point. Should the law be upheld by the unlawful? Whether or not this woman killed her child (the evidence says she didn’t) becomes secondary when it is obtained by unlawful means, which is what these detectives did and which is also why the judge threw this case out.

    • stop protecting bullies

      if you read it there was nothing about sids.  The baby did have a fever,  but medical examiners saw no evidence of smothering.

  • David Boeri

    Nga, it was a pleasure to meet and talk to  you the other day. I think a lot of people who have heard your story will be heartened to learn how well you have done in the face of this adversity. Getting your GED in jail andthen  starting  college as soon as you got out, while holding down a job,  is a great accomplishment. It shows resilience, a positive spirit, your faith in the future, and the bright promise that you are going to succeed.

    • concerned

      Are the officers going to be prosecuted?  It sounds like Nga is okay.  Tell her she is a very brave girl,  and there are a lot of people rooting for her.  Is there a fund people can give to to help her,  and her family?  Is there a lawyer taking the Worcester Police to court for all this illegal behavior,  is there a civil suit for the mental abuse of this child?

  • David Boeri

    To unfortunate truth,
    You have an unfortunate misunderstanding.  No one has suggested that Khyle died of SIDS. No one.

  • M. F. Natola

    Mr. Boeri has demonstrated once again why he is THE pre-eminent criminal justice reporter in town.  Time and time again he has demonstrated his dogged determination and remarkable courage by exposing the excesses and abuses that occur every day in the so-called criminal “justice” system.  I know first hand, since I have been defending criminal cases in MA and elsewhere for over 30 years.  If only politically motivated prosecutors who want to pile up “wins” to tout in their re-election or re-appointment campaigns, and intellectually dishonest judges who are horrified at the prospect of getting their names in the papers would truly uphold THE LAW for everyone, we would have fewer of the abominations reported by Mr. Boeri.  But since the average person doesn’t  care about the fair administration of justice, especially in the case of minorities and the poor, I don’t expect any change any time soon . . . unless, that is, more average persons receive the dreaded knock on their door.  I’ve heard it said for years, and it’s never been more apt, “A liberal is a conservative whose kid has just been arrested.”  Let this tragic story be a lesson to all those who couldn’t care less.  Thank you again, Mr. Boeri.

  • Steve

    “So far, there’s been no comment from Worcester Police.” – Don’t hold your breath waiting for one.

  • Ellen Lincourt

    Since my daughter was 6 or 7, I’ve taught her to say two things over and over if she is ever interrogated by the police, “I want my mother and I want a lawyer.”  She is to say nothing without either myself or a defense lawyer present.

    • HaHa

      Wow. Having problems with the criminal justice system, there Ellen?  Seems odd to feel the need to give such advice to a 6 year-old unless you’ve had your own run-ins of course

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=522228604 Steven Pierce

        That is the “nothing to fear” untruth. If you are not guilty, you have nothing to hide. How after reading this story can you still take such a misinformed position?

        Let me begin with, I was an MP and MPI that lets me say these things; first everyone has something to hide I do not care how squeaky clean you have convinced yourself you are. Second, the more you talk to a professional in a field in which you are not an expert the deeper you dig the hole of obvious ignorance, which includes self-incrimination. Third, you could be innocent of killing god and a well-trained interrogator could get you to doubt that you did not nail him to a cross.

        That being said, coercion is wrong and such should not be tolerated in a society that professes innocent until PROVEN guilty. Coercion is not proof of guilt it is the exercise of power over a victim. Something that should be carefully trained to all types of officers, the investment of power comes with a crap load of ethical responsibility. The absence of that ethical core is what happened here, it does not happen in every officer or person invested with power as some have stated earlier. Such statements reveal more about them than about what they speak about.

  • Jeffrey Neal

     ‘unfortunate truth’ – My only question is, are you Mr. Pageau or Mr. Doherty?  

    Thank you, Mr. Boeri, for shining light on this great injustice.  Let’s hope that the system can now follow through and flush these two sorry excuses for police officers from the WPD.  They are a disgrace to the uniform and the community they are pledged to protect and serve.  

    Nga, you have shown great courage and strength of character in moving forward with your life in the wake of this horrific tragedy.  Know that there are countless of us standing beside you in support.  Blessings. 

  • David Moran

    Mr. Boeri,

    I’m a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and co-director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic.  This sort of case is not, unfortunately, isolated.  Nearly two decades ago I represented on appeal a mentally ill woman, Dawn McAllister, who had been convicted of murder entirely on her coerced confession of smothering her infant son who died during the night, even though all of the indications from the autopsy were inconsistent with smothering and consistent with SIDS. It turns out the detective had extracted similarly doubtful confessions from several other women whose infants had just died.  We won that case not because the confession was coerced but because of the corpus delicti rule (a conviction cannot rest on a confession alone–there must be some independent evidence establishing that the crime actually occurred).  If Massachusetts follows the corpus delicti rule, it seems that the same result would have been dictated in this case.  [You can read about the McAllister case at 64 Ohio State Law Journal 817 (2003).] 

    Congratulations on an excellent story that needed to be told.

    Dave Moran

  • Michael

    Dirty Pigs,

    How many other cases did these cops use such tactics? without being reported.  What’s sicken me is that the journalist had to fight for these tapes. Will the cops be put on trial for doing this?

    • Anonymous

      I hope so…  but I doubt it.

  • Anonymous

    RULE #1…



    I wouldn’t talk to the Police about a Speeding Ticket let alone about a death.  You CANNOT help yourself by talking to them.

    I know it’s just a movie but if you remember the scene in My Cousin Vinnie where Ralph Macchio so-called confessed…  “I killed the clerk.”  This is the same thing and is a perfect demonstration on why you should NEVER talk to the police without an attorney present and a video recorder running.

    • Guest

      No doubt: the best advice about dealing with cops ever.

  • Michael

    As George Carlin had it right about our legal system

  • Michael

    Thanks BUR for your work on this.

  • Juan-o

        The only reason we have this videotape is a state supreme court ruling encouraging videotaping. Before such taping, police routinely testified that they employed no promises, threats, or pressure on those they interrogated.

  • Jennifer

    Thank you, WBUR and David Boeri for your reporting on this important subject. As a former public defender I have an understanding of the problem, and it is so important to get this information to the public so that more people can understand how this happens.  Unfortunately I also believe that cases like this are more common than people might think.

  • donnyt

    1) these detectives should face penalties
    2) i hear alot of people say, “the detectives were just doing their job” but quite honestly, it does not sound like they KNEW what was lawful during an interrogation and what was not. That and my own experiences leads me to believe that many law enforcement do not know the law is themselves, so how can they uphold the law?

    • Anonymous

      ask any cop he will tell you from his own mouth “I am the Law”

  • Kiwi_Sean

    Thank You WBUR for covering this topic. As a Criminal Justice lecturer in Boston and a foreigner I include the issue of false confession into my courses, especially the issue of Juvenile Justice. It always astounds me the amount of surprise that the populous has when these cases come to light.  A clip that may be of interest to your readers comes from a leading researcher, Dr Saul Kassin. This clip is from the Vera Institute http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDRRwFfJKkw. I think what we need to recognize is that these are not isolated incidents and the people should not let this continue.  Another case to look at here is the case of Martin Crowe, a clip of his interrogation is on Oprahs site. No student has a straight face after that clip

    • NEU

      A link to the Martin C confession http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Michael-Crowes-False-Confession, and interesting case about waiving of Miranda rights, where the court found no need for special protection for minors (Fare v. Michael C. ). Sets some concepts of when invocation of Miranda rights occurs, with different interpretations in different states.  Anyway it seems these cases are likely the tip of the iceberg

    • donnyt

      very informative video. perhaps we should do away with confessions all together unless it is 100% voluntary

      • Anonymous

        confessions are 100% voluntary or you are a torturing little porkchop aint ya?

  • Longsmith

    I certainly hope these two are no longer with the police department. What scum!

  • bibliotequetress

    Heartbreaking. Disgusting. Please tell me the cops are being prosecuted.

  • Jeff

    Why don’t these police officers face time in jail?

  • Anonymous

    Wow. And not one commenter has allowed for the possibility that this girl actually killed her baby and that the detectives actually got at the truth?  Why is everyone more concerned about protecting her rights than the rights of the newborn?  Very biased reporting and comments here.

    • Great_society_comics

      If you cannot see the horror in this situation you are as sick as the police who perpetrated this criminal act.  How do you live with yourself?

      • Anonymous

        How do I live with myself? Very easily.  All I’m saying is that this girl could very well have murdered her kid.  That apparently bothers all of you less than the fact that the police coerced a confession out of her that very well could’ve have been a truthful confession.  So I’m standing up for the baby who was killed by her mother while you all are standing up for the killer.  And do I know 100% she did it? No.  But neither do you and the fact is she admitted to it, regardless of how it was done but she wasn’t tortured.  And the fact that none of you seem to care at all about a potential killer going free is troubling.  But that’s what I’d expect from this one-sided crowd.

        • Anonymous

          The bizarre issue is that there was never any evidence that the death was a homicide or suspicious in any way-tragic, but not suspicious. The medical examiners report has no basis for homicide. There are about 250,000 sudden deaths at home every year in the US; your logic creates murder suspects out of their family members as well.

        • Anonymous

          and you could be a child raping cop. prove you’re not. p.s. wer’re all potential killers. if you are free please turn yourself in for life bacon boy

          • Anonymous

            I for one am not a potential killer so I guess that’s one big difference between us.  Nor am I a child-raping cop.  But I do have a greater appreciation for the work cops than probably everyone on this board and the fact that you suggest that I am a “child-raping cop” strongly suggests that you are biased against cops which is one of my points.  Everyone on here is going after the cops and don’t give a damn about whether a murderer went free.  That’s a problem.

      • Anonymous

        you can hear a cop as well as see one.  not one of them talks like a real citizen.  

    • http://twitter.com/aragusea Adam Ragusea

      I’m not sure where you’re seeing bias in the reporting. It seems to me David’s reporting strongly supports the conclusion that Troung’s confession was coerced. Whether the confession was false, in addition to being coerced, is another matter.

    • Simon

      If she is in fact guilty, it is entirely the fault of those two idiot cops that she has gone free. If she is innocent, those two cops are criminal monsters. Either way, it is the cops who suck.

    • Joe110

      Is that why you post anonymous? The burden of proof is what determines if someone is found guilty. Proof not fabricated confessions und bullying. It is for a court of law to determine soneone is guilty, these idots of cops prevented this determination because gladly we have a judge who is able to not let such a coersed confession get into court.

  • Great_society_comics

    Oh my God!  What manner of people are these?  What kind of a justice system do we have in the city of Worcester when these animals can get away with this kind of brutality directed towards a most vulnerable child?  Who else has been similarly victimized and may now be sitting in a prison cell?  Nothing can bring back this childs child and nothing can purge her memory of this most horrific experience.  I hope and I pray that this victim of police cruelty sues this city and that these so-called public servants are themselves prosecuted for conducting an inquisition that rivals that of the medieval church in it’s systematic witch hunts.  These people are truly evil beings who deserve to be removed from civil society and this girl deserves a multi-million dollar pay off. 

  • gary

    When the incompetent are in charge of the innocent, it never ends well.
    Thank goodness for that tape .

  • Concerned

    I am shocked that most find this shocking… wake up … the police at ALL levels use these tactics EVERYDAY … and yes from speeding tickets to murder… they are not alone though another great system we all know as DCF the department children family services also use these tactics to twist statements and destroy peoples lives… they  are not out for the TRUTH . words of wisdom if you ever encounter either of them the ONLY thing you should say is LAWYER -   LAWYER – LAWYER … you may regret it if you talk…

    • Cmacd1

      I agree with you 100%.  I think many police officers are honourable, and we need to continue functioning under the assumption that law enforcement exists to execute the duties of that title.  However, I also understand, as do most people, that with such power also comes the inevitability of widespread corruption.  I recently experienced a situation, although certainly less serious or monumental than a homicide investigation, involving a speeding ticket.  A police officer pulled me over when I was stopped and preparing to take a perfectly legal left turn.  He cited me for speeding just as another vehicle blew past me on the right at a speed that was well over the posted limit.  I contested the ticket until the case was eventually heard by a judge in the Worcester court.  As I explained my case, it was so obvious that the judge believed the officer had pulled over the wrong vehicle.  After I explained my case, he asked the officer if it was possible that he had been mistaken.  The officer stood by his original citation, of course.  The judge reduced the fine to the minimum but still found me responsible.  I could tell he completely believed me but was unwilling to undermine a Worcester City Police Officer’s authority, even if it had been a mistake.  In another instance, our neighbor, also a Worcester City Police Officer, rolled his truck over in the middle of the night while driving home from a local tavern.  Despite the fact that it was obviously a DUI, he was never cited and continues in his position in the department.

      I think we all know that corruption is rampant in police departments throughout the world.  My only regret about this story is that it happens to focus on a case in Worcester, and, as a city, I think we get a a bit of a bad rap already.  Worcester is a great place to live, work and raise a family, and I am sure for every one of these cases of coercion found in our city, there are an equal or greater number of cases to be found in the Boston Police Department.

  • Guest

    I listen to ‘BUR everyday and have always found David Boeri’s stories gripping.  This one got my heart thumping and blood pressure skyrocketing.  I’m not going to launch into a criticism of police officers; there are many honorable men and women in this dangerous field.  However, these two should go to prison for exactly two years and eight months.  I am just simply astounded that Nga’s mother, who seems quite mentally ill, as well as Nga, her baby, and her brothers did not come to the attention of social welfare agencies?  How did we overlook this unfortunate family?
    Nga, I wish you the best of luck.  Keep up the good work.  We are routing for you.

  • Joe110

    The Police administration should also be fired because they still have confidence into these criminals? They should go to jail and serve as a reminder to crooked cops that they have to follow the law and they are not above the law.

  • Guest

    Here is the “Professional Standards” page of the Worcester Police Department: http://www.worcesterma.gov/police/professional-standards

    They have complaint forms available, and included in the list of police behavior that can be subject to complaints is “misconduct such as verbal abuse…and harrassment”

    • Nightwing

      Complaint Forms, like “No Contact Orders”, are truly useless pieces of paper.
      Complaint Forms are reviewed by whom ? The very same people you are complaining against. Hence it’s a mote point.

  • Polly pillsbury

    Thank you David, for outstanding work.

  • LJS

    There’s an even greater problem with the FBI, where it is against FBI policy to record. Not only that, usually the defendant does not even get to review or sign a statement — the agent’s report is the sole record of what the defendant allegedly admitted to. When it comes to court, it becomes the word of the defendant against the clean-cut FBI agent in his nice suit with a spiffy badge.

    Recording is vital to making sure that confessions are legitmate.

  • Krebsl554


  • Dick

    It amazes me that there was no review of the interrogation by anyone in the administration of the police force and that her attorneys did not (were not able?) to use the recording of this abuse to keep her from serving 2 + years in prison.

  • Wayne Davis

    What a travesty!   Best wishes to Nga to rebuild her life.

    Kudos to David Boeri for outstanding reporting, and to David and WBUR for fighting to be able to tell this story.  I thought your reporting on Whitey Bulger was Pulitzer-grade, but this tops it.

  • Anonymous

    When I heard this story, two things came to mind. The first was the disgust of seeing two supposed professionals commit coercion and fraud in order to make a quick arrest.

    The second is that in their haste to bully a confession out of this girl, they did a huge disservice to the rest of her family. Not only is sudden death syndrome real, but there is a familial infant death syndrome seen  predominantly in southeast Asian families. It affects males more than females, often happens during sleep, and is potentiated by fever. Given the circumstances, this is far more likely than her being a fratricidal teenage serial killer. 

    I hope that she and her family are offered competent medical help and counseling. For them to loose another child as a result of legal incompetence and malice would be beyond tragic.

  • http://twitter.com/HerbertBroom Herbert Broom

    Welcome to America where you are free to lose your freedom

    • Dick

       This is an incredible miscarriage of justice and a subversion of the judicial system.  These cops created a crime without waiting to see if there was any evidence of a crime, decided who was guilty, and extracted a confession from the person they decided was guilty by illegal means.

      The fact that the people who run the police have taken no action and have no response to this corrupt behavior is the real travesty.  They seem to support whatever behavior the police engage in.  This corruption of the legal system exists because of a culture that starts at the top of the Worcester police force.

      • http://twitter.com/Mykeru Mykeru

        The people who “run the police” got what they wanted: A confession. 

        Whether or not the cops actually believed Truong was guilty, we’ll never know. But based on their having no evidence at all, and lying about evidence, indicates they were indifferent to the truth. 

        The prosecutors got what they wanted: A an easy slam-dunk conviction in front of an intellectually lazy but representative jury that they can use to show how tough they are and make the case for how they are all keeping us safe. 

        We don’t practice justice in America. We do score keeping.

        And we like it easy.

  • jws

    Thanks for this courageous piece of journalism. I suspect this type of interrogation is more the rule than the exception. In fact, if you take a look at the “Wilmington 7″, which was a case in No. Carolina where a very persistent detective got 7 people to admit to a murder they did not commit and the police just changed their version of the “truth” in order to accommodate the new confessions as they came in, and then got the suspects to agree to whatever that was. Meanwhile, the real killer apparently confessed and said he did it alone. I also heard on WBUR another case where CIA interrogators got Al Quaeda leaders to confess to having ties to Saddam Hussein’s regime after a sufficient amoumt of waterboarding which helped to justify the war in Iraq. Obviously most people will confess to whatever you want them to confess to if you just torture them long enough. The question is, does this practice serve the disposition of justice or is it just the means to an end for the powerful?  

  • Anonymous

    Emotional torture is still torture, and that is exactly what happened here.

    More reason you should never agree to be interviewed by police without an attorney present.

  • AgTip

    The means of procuring the confession are very similar to what psychologists call REVERSIVE BLOCKADE … a technique of psychopaths.

  • Dude

    We know it’s not right but how do we stop it.

  • Skhan

    The truth is she didn’t do it! The cop force her to tell a lies

Most Popular