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Woman In Tossed-Out Confession Gets $2.1M Settlement From Worcester

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A screenshot of video footage attained by WBUR shows Worcester Police Sgt. Kevin Pageau, right, and Detective John Doherty as they interrogate Nga Truong, then 16, after the 2008 death of her baby boy.
A screenshot of video footage attained by WBUR shows Worcester Police Sgt. Kevin Pageau, right, and Detective John Doherty as they interrogate Nga Truong, then 16, after the 2008 death of her baby boy.

The city of Worcester will pay $2.1 million to a woman who was charged with suffocating her year-old son, as the result of what she calls a coerced and false confession.

Nga Truong was 16 years old at the time of her arrest and spent nearly three years in jail, before prosecutors dropped the charges.

A judge had tossed out the confession, ruling it was the product of deception, trickery and implied promises to a frightened teenager.

In a written statement released Thursday, the city of Worcester announced it had settled a lawsuit, which alleged civil rights violations, malicious prosecution, false arrest and false imprisonment.

Had the suit gone to trial, Truong’s lawyers would have shown jurors a two-and-a-half-hour video of the interrogation taped by Worcester police. That video -- on which the judge based her decision to throw out Truong’s so-called confession -- was obtained and disseminated by WBUR after a lengthy legal effort.

It was December 2008, and two Worcester detectives had a Vietnamese-American teenager in the box, a cramped room used for interrogations.

The day before, Truong's 13-month-old baby had stopped breathing. Worcester 911 responded to a pleading, hysterical phone call. A doctor at a nearby hospital declared him dead.

In the box, a video player recorded the interrogation. "That medical examiner told me that that baby was smothered. Does that change your story? We have scientific evidence ... that boy was smothered to death."

In fact, what the detective was telling Truong was not true. Doctors and the medical examiner had said no such thing. The detective was lying.

The autopsy actually states the cause of death was undetermined. And the death certificate said strep throat was a contributing factor.

"Please believe me," Truong is heard telling the detectives on the video.

"I don't believe you, because I believe the scientists, I believe the doctors," a police detective responds.

Truong was alone. She had no lawyer and, as Judge Janet Kenton Walker later ruled, the cops had not given her proper Miranda warnings.

Back in 2011, Ed Ryan, who was appointed Truong's attorney after she was arrested, told me that Truong's first words to him were she didn't do it.

"Psychological torture is the best way to describe what they did to this young woman," Ryan said then. "Their interrogation was designed, not to determine the truth, not to get at the facts. Their intention was designed to force her to confess to doing it in the way they figured she did it."

The judge described Truong as "frightened, meek, emotionally compromised." Truong continued to insist she was innocent, just as the detectives continued to insist she was guilty.

The turning point in the two hours of taped interrogation comes after the detectives promise Truong that, if she admits to what she did, they will take her to juvenile court, where there is minimal punishment. But if she doesn't cooperate, they threaten, they will push to try her as an adult.

In 2011, I asked Nga Truong, why would you confess to committing something you didn't do?

"It was a pretty long two hours," she said, "and all I could hear throughout those two hours was that they were going to give me help if I confessed."

In the video, just before she confesses, the detectives promise a reward: They will get her younger brothers, who Truong was raising herself, into a good family and away from their mother, who was judged to be unfit.

After watching the interrogation video, Judge Kenton Walker wrote: "With notable naivete, Nga believed what the officers told her. ... All she wanted to know was whether she and her brothers would now be able to go to a foster home."

In its statement Thursday, the City of Worcester said that as a condition of the settlement, all parties in the suit are prohibited from commenting.

This segment aired on June 30, 2016.

David Boeri Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.



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