WBUR

Questions Remain In Coerced Worcester Confession

WORCESTER, Mass. — This story is a follow-up on an exclusive story reported in December: a 16-year-old Worcester girl charged with murdering her 13-month-old son. What sent her to jail for nearly three years to await trial was a confession extracted by Worcester Police detectives. Here’s an excerpt:

Sgt. Kevin Pageau, lead detective: And you don’t get to be a kid. And that’s why you smothered Khyle, didn’t you?

Truong: I did not.

Pageau: That’s why you smothered him, didn’t you?

Truong: I would never kill him.

Truong later insisted that she never hurt her baby. And her lawyer insisted this was a case of a false confession.

The confession was later thrown out by a judge who ruled that the circumstances surrounding her confession were coercive, and Truong was set free. She is rebuilding her life, but the Worcester Police Department has still not made an accounting.

The Power Of Positive Thinking

“How did you think you were going to get out?” I asked her.

“I didn’t do anything, so they have to let me go,” she replied.

It was the power of being positive that got Truong through two years and eight months of confinement at the Women’s Correctional Center in Chicopee.

Interview With Nga Truong

“I mean, it’s really sad to say, but jail made me better, at the end of it,” Truong said.

She got her GED in jail and is going to college full-time now. Truong reveals no bitterness toward the detectives who questioned her in 2008, but Worcester Police haven’t answered our numerous requests for interviews.

And it’s clear they resent questions. So on Tuesday, I went to a public meeting to find Police Chief Gary Gemme.

Evading Questions

“My comment to you is that if you have any questions on that case, I suggest you speak to the district attorney,” Gemme said.

“Right, but as the chief you expressed full support and confidence in your two officers,” I responded.

“And I stand by the statement.”

“You do?”

Gemme’s only previous statement on the case came in writing after our broadcast last December of excerpts from the videotaped police interrogation. The detectives’ conduct drew outrage from across the country, including sharp criticism from detectives and prominent judges like this one:

“Thank God we have courts and judges,” said retired Superior Court Judge Robert Barton. “If you left it up to the police to decide whether you’re guilty or not, that kid would have been strung up in the backyard that night. Because in their minds, she’s guilty: give her the maximum punishment, next case.”

Barton was especially troubled by the detectives’ conduct, which critics likened to psychological and emotional torture.

But the officers remain on the Worcester Police force. In fact, lead detective Pageau has been moved up to Internal Affairs to investigate complaints of police wrongdoing.

Worcester Police Chief Has No Regrets

Gemme issues no apologies or regrets.

“All I’m saying to you is that I suggest that you speak to the district attorney,” he told me again.

“And he didn’t appeal the case in which the judge said that your two detectives had engaged in a pattern of deceit, trickery, false promises, implied promises and inducements,” I continued.

“And I suggest that you speak to the district attorney,” Gemme said.

“But you’re the chief and you said those words, sir,” I replied.

Boeri On Interrogation Techniques

I had spoken to the District Attorney Joe Early. He did not take the opportunity to express full support and confidence in the two detectives. And he explained that he had no chance of successfully appealing Judge Janet Kenton-Walker’s order to suppress the confession.

Kenton-Walker wins praise from both Barton and recently retired federal Judge Nancy Gertner.

“Anyone who would have listened to it would have had doubts that this confession was true,” Gertner said. “You had to worry about it, you had to worry about her affect, you have to worry about her age, you had to worry about how vulnerable she was and how unsophisticated she was, and if at the end of the day then she confesses, you had to be concerned that that confession wasn’t true.”

Suppressing evidence in a murder case is a very big deal, the now-Harvard professor said about Kenton-Walker.

“It is so important that she articulated her findings,” Gertner said. “It’s terribly important that she said why, because I don’t think that people truly understand how false confessions happen.”

‘Cognitive Bias’

Kenton-Walker’s ruling in the Truong case, and in a more recent case, has put the judge in the firing line of the Worcester Police. And Gemme has attacked her in an unusual way. He has a Twitter account, @911chief. And he has fired tweets like this one:

“Judge Kenton-Walker. Cognitive bias. What more can be said?”

“When you look at what cognitive bias is, it’s taking information and continually making a bad decision based on the information that you have,” Gemme said.

City Councilor Rick Rushton said the chief’s conduct is over the top.

“When you use the words like ‘cognitive bias,’ you’re indicating that you believe that a judge has a mental disorder,” Rushton said, “really puts a chilling effect, I believe, and it shows a lack of professionalism.”

And when another councilor, Connie Lukes, said Gemme’s tweeting was sophomoric, Gemme tweeted the councilors were engaging in a food fight, which he said he won.

“We’re the second largest city in New England, we need to act like the second largest city in New England,” Rushton said. “This isn’t some backwater small town.”

But tweeting is just one of the chief’s weapons. He has also turned the normal police press release into bludgeons against reporters, columnists and, once again, Kenton-Walker: “Worcester Police Department Responds to Judge Releasing Violent Offenders Back to the Street,” goes one such hit.

The chief of police is trying to intimidate judges, said Ed Ryan, the defense attorney for Truong. And standing up for the two detectives is even worse.

“That is a degree arrogance, a degree of disrespect for the rule of law that frightens me,” Ryan said. “That tells me that they have a license to do whatever they want. Keep it up. That is a very frightening circumstance to have law enforcement so empowered, so arrogant, that they think they can get away with this kind of behavior.”

As of Tuesday, the chief was still deflecting questions.

“The last thing I’m going to say, is that if you have any questions, I’m going to suggest that you speak to the district attorney,” Gemme said.

“I talked to Joe Early,” I said.

“And what did the district attorney say?” Gemme replied.

“He did not appeal the judge’s order, chief. You know, it’s easy to send tweets and flak from behind closed doors, but answer some questions, sir.”

“Have a nice day,” Gemme said. The door closed, and there would be no answers about Nga Truong from the Worcester police chief.

More:

Editor’s Note: WBUR teamed up with WCVB-TV’s “Chronicle” for a special half-hour show on the Nga Truong case. Here are video segments one, two, three and four.

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

    David, you did a great job with this story.  As always you made it come alive for me.  You stayed on the chief of police in a way that was both hard hitting and respectful.  You asked for an accounting of the officers and the police force which the public is entitled to.  Hopefully this will serve as a reminder to public officials that they can and will be held accountable.

  • Zouln

    Gary Gemme doesn’t sound like a professional police officer, he sounds like a blustering, vindictive high school bully who cares more about protecting his turf than doing a good job. This is not someone who should be in a leadership position in the police force and in the community. What an embarrassment; he needs to go.

  • Jennifer

    Excellent work, David and WBUR.  Proud to have my pledge dollars supporting such independent, thoughtful, productive journalism.  Keep up the good work.

  • Tim

    David Boeri must be one of the best journalists working in the state. Thanks for taking on this story.

  • Jennifer 2

    Just made my first pledge to BUR after hearing this story this morning.  Thanks for your coverage – without an independent and robust media, I shudder to think what will happen to our democracy.

  • http://twitter.com/nohomedia Northampton Media

    On the issue of admissibility of confessions — the SJC heard oral arguments in November in the case of Commonwealth v. Baye. That’s the big arson/murder case in Northampton. At stake is whether a 10-hour videotape where Baye is interrogated by police — and where he’s said to have confessed — will be admitted as evidence and seen by the jury. Lawyers for the defense, who lost their suppression hearing in lower court, argue that the state police investigators used dishonest and coercive techniques in eliciting the so-called confession. There’s been no ruling yet.

    But video of the oral arguments and related filings can be found at the link below. That’s special prosecutor Brett Vottero for the Commonwealth and Northampton attorney David Hoose for the accused.

    http://www.suffolk.edu/sjc/archive/2011/SJC_11044.html

  • Guy

    Great bit of reporting about a tragic case, initiated by corrupt police, abetted by their  pathetic Chief, demeaning the work of good cops everywhere. Thanks David.

  • Kathleen

    Where are the checks and balances?  What is the correct process for such behavior by a police chief to be reviewed?  What is the next step, beyond the opinions given and refuted?

  • mel

    The city of Worcester is a pathetic mess.

  • David from Lowell

    This clearly shows the civic benefit of independent, competent journalism.  Great job. As a suggestion for follow-up stories, there will definitely be more cases of coerced confessions where one is found. 

  • Jennifer

    Thank you David Boeri and WBUR for the follow-up on this case.  What is the deterrent for police refraining from such harmful, outrageous conduct again??  The media.

  • http://andrewphelps.com Andrew Phelps

    More like David Boeri, please.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Good going Dave- and please be careful. This guy Gemme sounds unscrupulous enough to try and lash out at you however he can. You may have struck something uncomfortable when you deduced that rule of law means nothing to him. People like that tend to enjoy silencing their detractors however they can, rather than facing the truth and cleaning up their act.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      he sends threatening letters to the paper BEFORE they publish articles about his corruption

  • disgusted

    What a load of sensationalized crap.  Isn’t it just like the media to attack the police in favor of a girl who admittedly killed one baby and probably killed her baby brother years before.  Who speaks for those innocent babies?  The police.  Nga Truong is a murderer.  She killed an innocent child and Mr. Boeri is nothing but a tabloid journalist looking to make a name for himself.    And Mr. Boeri, with regard to Judge Kenton Walker and the thug she let back out on the street – the one accused of a shooting in Fitchburg, suspected of the one on video in Worcester and arrested with a gun and drugs – the same one who before the weekend was over was back in jail because he violated his bail – don’t share those facts with your audience – far better to protect these “model citizens” who are a threat to us all than an innocent baby and a highly decorated police official with an unblemished career.  You and your kind make me ill.

    • Citizen

      Police are supposed to uphold the law, not subvert it–which is is exactly what they did here.  +1 blemish

    • Fan of justice

      Are you Gemme’s brother or uncle?  Criminal laws are designed to ensure justice, and the these two detectives clearly abused their power.   Did you actually listen to the tapes of this interrogation, sir? 

    • Doubting Thomas

      Did… did you read the article? Or are you just angry because someone isn’t in jail because there was no proof?

      Siding with cops that don’t follow the rules only makes the cops who actually are good disgusted, as your name implies. It brings shame to the department.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much to David Boeri for bring this to our attention.  Thank you “Chronicle” for airing this segment.  It was sickening to watch these video’s to think that these 2 men are to uphold the law.  How could they violate Ms. Truong her civil rights.  They did not even ask this young lady if she wanted a lawyer, why?   and then to put her away for 2 years in a women’s prison.  What is wrong with you  Chief Gemme?  and then to promote these to cops….WHY????
    I feel bad for the “Good Police Officers” and there are many good Police Officers who do held the law and truly help people and keep us safe.  My hats of to you Good Ones…… 
    Congratulations Ms. Trunog, and thank u for your bravery.  Keep up the good work.
    Mr. Boeri, please do a follow-up on this story.   Thanks again.

  • Rocky201234

    The Worcester Police Dept. should not be judged on the actions of the Chief. Gemme has been proven to be a liar and manipulator but the City Manager refuses to get rid of him even though the City (my city) is going down the toilet. The question is why Mike …. why 

  • woosta guy

    Enough is enough…when is the city going to wake up?…remember “disfunction junction”?……I think that applies here

  • woosta guy

    I thought the Chronicle show was great! At the same time i was so embarassed…

  • Guest123

    When is someone going to connect the dots on this Chief Gemme? Look into the termination of Worcester Police Officer David Rawlston to see just how far this Chief will go to have his way and the facts be damned. Threatening detectives with transfer to change their findings, intimidating officers into agreeing with the chief and firing Officers who refused to be bullied into perjuring themselves. Do the research. It is beyond frightening.

  • Jonnybad82

    I think they should be put to jail….for putting that girl through that just watched it on news…worcester police i wonder how many people went jail cause of them..and the chief of police must be hiding something since he has nothing to say. I wonder how many cops are like them

  • Bastiens1

    wow, i was shocked to see how far sgt pageau took the interogation. I went to high school with Kevin even ran track with him. he was a mild mannered guy then what a change……

  • maj4855

    I don’t know where this
    story is now, but I would hope that the Worcester City Council has put a muzzle
    on this vitriolic police chief who thinks of himself as “Attila the Hun”, or they have
    deigned to remove him.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      they passed a internet use policy for the whole city to try to stop the chiefs tweeting but thats about it. this case is the tip of the iceberg of gemmes corruption

  • Brownjill41

    hi, I just wanted to say that i read what happened to you and i started to cry. my boyfreind has been in jail for 6YEARS without a trail on something that he didnt do.Its so sad how people can take your life away,he didnt do anything to go through this. he is a wounderful man, dad, friend,and son. who has people waiting for him to come home. thank you for wirting your story. i wish you the best with everything.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    please please please keep the spotlight on Gary Gemme. there are plenty more shocking stories of his misconduct to be heard and plenty more victims

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