tv Inside the Box Interrogation MSNBC March 4, 2013 12:00am-1:00am PST
thanks, everybody, around this table for the conversation. before we go, quick programming note. tomorrow on "today," former basketball star dennis rodman speaks out about what? yes, his fascinating trip to north korea, if you can believe it. also, for this week's press pass conversation, i sat down with popular author of "the secret of happy families," bruce filer. very good advice for those of us with kids at home. you can watch it at
it's the place where lies unravel and alibis crumble. >> our job as homicide detectives are to speak for the dead. >> the interrogation room. or as police call it, the box. >> okay. let's sure. let's see the body. >> in the college town of austin, texas, government major is guild out mutilating a romantic rival. >> jealous girl friend. jealous girlfriends make criminals. >> i've never seen one act engender outcome of hate, revulsion and disgust that laura's case did. >> and in florida, a teenager is told he helped murder his elderly relatives. >> tell me something went bad. >> i don't know.
>> bostick said, i don't know by my count 285 times. >> now, go where cases can be made or broken. "caught on camera" presents inside the box. austin, texas, august 26th, 2005. >> i've never been in a situation like this before. >> i hope this the only time. >> i want to go home. believe you me, you guys, model citizen when i walk out of here seriously. i'm not even making jokes. >> university of texas undergraduate laura ashley hall
assures detectives she knows little about the murder and dismemberment of her 21-year-old romantic rival. >> i don't want to you tell me anything that's not true. i don't need that. >> i'm not willing to lie. >> one of the monitor rooms at the austin police department homicide unit. >> this has changed me. >> i was watching the interview. in the nearly 10 years i've been with the homicide unit, i don't know if i've come across an individual who has been as vile or intent on distorting the truth as laura hall. >> i disagree with the detectives. i respect them. i know they work hard but they are wrong. >> laura's attorney jim sawyer finds deep flaws in both the way investigators conduct the interview and the interrogation
process in general. >> the entire thing is designed to make you look bad. from the moment they have you in custody, they want you to accept responsibility for having committed the crime. that's what an interrogation is about. >> the austin police contend their ambition is uncovering the truth, a goal they say they begin pursuing the moment they receive this 911 call from jennifer caves' mother. >> please hurry. >> the address of the emergency. we need the address. >> ma'am, hello. >> police are eventually directed to austin's west campus neighborhood, home to colton pitonyak, an erratic national merit scholar finalist and drug dealer, romantically involved with both laura hall and
jennifer cave. after failing to hear from her daughter, jennifer's mother and her fiancee have forced their way into colton's apartment, encountering a grisly sight in the bathtub. >> her head was severed and her hands in the hope of removing any dental work or fingerprints. so there's a saying among homicide detectives which i have inscribed on the bracelet on my list, which means let the dead teach the living. our job as homicide detectives are to speak for the dead. they have a family that's got to continue on without them. >> to pursue that mission, detective fugate explores the epicenter of austin's night life and the party scene that brought laura hall and colton pitonyak together. >> he was dating jennifer cave at the time. once colton revealed to her the body was in the bathtub, laura hall may have taken part in the
mutilation of the body. as far as stabbing cave in the upper torso, the right side of her face and the cranial vault of her head. >> six days later authorities track laura and colton in a hotel room in piedras negras. laura isn't arrested. instead, police advise her family to pick her up and take her home. >> she was still part of the investigation but we weren't clear as to her level of involvement. so at that point she's not a suspect. >> colton pitonyak is charged with jennifer's murder and brought to a local detention center to be interviewed. >> i'm pretty sure i need to speak with an attorney. this is serious. >> that's absolutely your right to do, okay? >> investigators then drive to laura's parents home. when they turn on their tape recorder, laura appears
unwilling to help them build a case against colton pitonyak. >> i don't think he did it. i really don't. >> in fact, laura describes the trip to mexico not as a flight from justice but a romantic vacation. >> i was very excited that he wanted me to go on a trip with him. i was like, i love this guy. i didn't think twice. >> but three days later, detectives capitalize on another opportunity to question laura,
instructing her to come to austin police headquarters to pick up her impounded car, then escorting her inside the box, the interrogation room. >> i hope you didn't find any inconsistencies. >> there were a lot of inconsistencies. >> we knew her involvement was much greater than she initially led us to believe. >> i'll have to speak to my attorney. obviously. >> you have nothing else to tell us? you're not going to change your statement or anything. >> mark gilchrist, who is the lead detective, already knows he's going to put her in jail. there's already a warrant. >> you don't want to talk to me without your attorney? is that what you're telling me? >> he plays a game with her until what? until she says i wan a lawyer. >> if you're saying i might be in some kind of trouble. oh, my god.
>> laura ashley hall, you are under arrest for hindering apprehension. >> since the investigation they have been scrutinizing the pretty government major for driving her boyfriend over the border. that's enough to charge her in assisting in the escape but the government suspects it goes deeper and continue to pursue more serious charges. >> oh, my god. what's going to happen? >> you're going to go to jail. >> oh, my god. what do you want to know? >> i want to know the truth. >> if a person is not under arrest, you don't have a right to have an attorney present under questioning, she was free to leave. once they informed her she was under arrest, the whole ball game changed. she had a right to an attorney. if she had invoked it at that
point, she could have had an attorney. >> do you want to talk to us or just go to jail. >> hoping to distance herself from any wrongdoing, laura is about to tell detectives her account. >> he had the knife out. he liquid it. he put his tongue in the blood. >> can anyone believe her version of events. rs... [ tylenol bottle ] me too! and nasal congestion. [ tissue box ] he said nasal congestion. yeah...i heard him. [ female announcer ] tylenol® cold multi-symptom nighttime relieves nasal congestion. nyquil® cold and flu doesn't.
up an impounded car. instead, detectives place her under arrest for helping boyfriend colton pitonyak escape to mexico after he kills another girlfriend, 21-year-old jennifer cave. >> i want to know the truth about what happened from the 18th to the time you crossed back over the border. >> okay. >> and i don't want to you tell me right now. i don't want to you tell me right now because you have asked for an attorney. i'm going to walk out of this room. okay? >> he's taking that extra step to make it clear that laura hall does not have to talk to him any further. >> detective david fugate is watching the interview from an adjoining room.
he and lead detective mark gilchrist have been working the case since jennifer cave's body has been found headless and handless in colton pitonyak's bathtub eight days earlier. >> do you understand what i want you to do? >> yes, i do. >> think about that. when i come back, you can make a decision. >> absolutely. >> i interpret thad as false caution on his part. i think it was an effort to make laura hall feel like he was looking out for her. >> okay what? >> i'll talk to you. >> okay. >> according to laura, she receives an early morning phone call from colton on august 17th, 2005, and accepts an invitation to visit his apartment near the university of texas. >> i saw someone's purse on the floor. i asked him about it. he wouldn't tell me who had been there.
he told me to shut up, quit being a ho about things. >> that is normal for him to talk to you like that? >> sometimes. >> she denied having any knowledge of the murder at all. bit by bit, she would give a little bit of detail, enough to let us know there was more information still to be gleaned from the interview. >> i knew about it. >> okay. >> i knew there was a body in the bathtub. >> if we're interviewing somebody we'll have them go and lay out their story in chronological order. we'll go back and ask them in reverse order. it's extremely difficult for somebody to lie in reverse. >> i saw a purse. i saw shoes. i saw shorts. he goes shhh.
you don't believe me, come see. okay. sure. let's see the body in your bathtub. you know, yeah, right. opens the shower curtain. there's a body in the bathtub. >> you never saw a face? >> uh-uh. >> at that point, did you know who it was? >> no. i had never met her. i knew that she had been shady before. >> how did you know she had been shady before if you didn't know who she was. >> he had told me about her. look, jennifer, there are other girls he knew. every girl he knew was sketched out.
>> laura hall considered colton pitonyak to be her boyfriend and had a dislike for jennifer cave. once colton revealed to her the body was in the bathtub, we believe laura hall stabbed the torso and face. >> and he told me that she came in and shot at him and missed and that he shot her. he said in the head. he also said he shot her in the chest. >> she's trying at all times to outsmart them. i think she clearly thinks she's the smartest person in the room. >> it might be important forensically to know did you have sex with him that day in the bed or anywhere in the apartment? >> on the couch. >> the couch. okay.
before he showed you the body or after? >> after. >> was it intercourse or was it oral sex? >> they have this young girl in a small room with a video camera going on above her head knowing everything they know about interrogations becoming public, the cops asked her if they had sex after laura arrived at pitonyak's apartment. you can almost see body parts and intercourse, copulation, oral sex. what kind of question is that? it's because even the cops are fascinated by this bizarre turn of events in the case. >> laura says within 24 hours, she and colton are in mexico.
she calls herself a reluctant driver despite describing their journey as a romantic holiday during a prior interview. >> i never intended on purpose to help colton hide, you know. i'm being held captive. i played for my life the best i could. >> what laura doesn't realize is a mexican acquaintance has e-mailed this photo to detectives. >> you're on vacation. you're having a good time. that's what it looks like. >> i think it looks like a fake smile. >> now, as she sees her freedom eroding, she's ready once again to change her story. but will a jury ever get to hear it. >> what could be more important to show a jury than having sex feet away from the dismembered body of a young girl?
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austin, texas, august 26th, 2005. away from the swirl of activity on 6th street, university of texas undergraduate laura ashley hall finds herself alone in an interrogation room contemplating the possibility of prison. police have already charged laura with hindering apprehension for driving boyfriend colton pitonyak into mexico after he kills his own girlfriend, 21-year-old jennifer cave. investigators also suspect laura of dismembering the corpse in the bathtub, cutting off the head and the hands to prevent identification. >> didn't say anything about handling the body. >> i didn't touch the body. >> didn't say anything about handling things --
>> i didn't touch the hacksaw. >> when did we talk about a hacksaw? >> we didn't. i read it in the paper. >> do you believe everything you read it in the paper? >> no. >> how did you know there was a hacksaw involved. >> he told me he went and bought the hacksaw. he confessed that. >> laura is in the box for more than eight hours tweaking, revising, and sometimes in venting. >> he said that three people came into the apartment, one of them was -- they had guns. they came in shooting at them. he said he killed three people. >> did he say where the rest of them was supposed to be? >> yeah. >> what did he say? >> he said he dumped them. >> yet in between the inaccuracies, detectives say they find a few nuggets of truth they need to further the case
against colton. >> there's a bit of relief after the interrogation, because we were able to gather details that we would not have otherwise. >> despite her description of colton pitonyak as an intimidating drug user, who at one stage in laura's story runs his tongue down a bloody knife, she refuses to testify at his 2007 trial for jennifer's murder. >> mr. pitonyak says he doesn't remember how it happened. when he essentially came out of the influence of alcohol and drugs, his friend jennifer cave was dead in his apartment. as far as all the mutilation and all of the aftermath, he blamed all of that on laura. >> colton is convicted of murder and sentenced to 55 years. and sometime prior to her own trial, laura tattoos his name on her ankle, a bewildering choice
her lawyer attributes to her instability. >> i think she is bipolar. she looks like miss america. coming into the trial she's smiling, all bad affect. tell me, is that relevant to the determination of whether she committed a crime. >> because she occupants not to take the stand at either trial, the best barometer of her character can be found on the interrogation tapes. >> colton owed about $2,000 to the asian mafia. he thought they were going to kill him over the money. >> yet prosecutors never allowed jurors to hear these statements. >> i've never seen the state miss an opportunity to air an interrogation. >> i know it's embarrassing but i have to ask, was there intercourse or oral sex? >> uh-huh.
>> what could be more important to show a jury than the callous disregard for the fact you're having sex feet away from the dismembered body of the young girl but they don't do it. the question is, why not? the flip side of that question is it's callous of the detectives who acted in reckless disregard to the common bounds of human decency. >> we did not introduce it at trial because we felt like it was manipulative and self-serving and we would like to question her about her story. >> both the machete used in the dismemberment and gun fired will convince jurors she mutilated her rival for colton's affections. on september 1st, 2007, laura is convicted of tampering with evidence, for cutting up jennifer's body and hindering
apprehension for driving colton to mexico. nonetheless, because of a procedural dispute regarding the penal phase, laura decides to appeal her five-year sentence. this time bill bishop is prepared to let jurors hear the defendant's words, not from the interrogation but a series of recorded jailhouse phone conversations. >> i'm pretty mad. there's a lot of people that are going to pay for this. i hate them with a passion. >> among the targets of laura's anger, jennifer cave's mother. >> she's going down one way or another, that bitch. >> i remember the words. they are burned into my memory. i think the next question that was played in that conversation was what about that [ bleep ] damn judge. she responds, when i get out of
jail this time, i'm going to march down to his office and i'm going to bitch slap that mother [ bleep ] is what he said. of course the judge is sitting there listening, too. >> in july 2010, laura's appeal results in her sentence being doubled to 10 years. for detective david fugate, the information called from the interrogation of laura ashley hall ultimately fulfills his mission of giving voice to the dead. >> the bottom line is to find out the facts of the case. it's not necessary all about the conviction, it's about finding the truth. >> coming up. >> please don't ask me these questions. >> a florida teen is told he helped kill his elderly relatives. >> if he didn't really remember it, it wouldn't come out as a lie here. >> he definitely took away any personal space that was there. declare that thou have brought overmany discounts to thine customers!
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night. i dream about this case. i'm thinking about it in my sleep when i'm dreaming. >> he didn't think of himself very highly. >> alex has come to the orlando county sheriff's office to talk about a double homicide. >> this is going to be solved very quickly. >> i had no idea i was a suspect at all in any of that. >> alex is the only boy with three sisters in a single mom. he was just a redneck boy that went hunting and fishing and loved being in the woods with all his friends. >> he considers the homicide
victims 84-year-old patrick depalma and his 79-year-old wife likable but distant relatives. >> the depalmas were my great uncle and aunt. edwin depalma was my uncle's sister. the children and i went over there and scrubbed her house and did all kinds of stuff for her. >> on october 28th, 2006, an intruder drives up to the depalmas remote home in the small community. >> they were stabbed and cut multiple times. mrs. depalma is located in the back bedroom, mr. depalma was in the hallway. >> i was 16 at the time of the murders. >> by the time the police visit
his home, two years after the crime, alex was a senior at the high school. >> the detective said i understand you have guns and knives. alex is a good old country boy and he says, yes, sir, i do. he says, do you hunt? he says, yeah, but i hunt men. once you hunt men, it's a totally different game. >> alex then drives himself to the sheriff's office, gets issued a guest pass an goes inside the box with the detective. >> i've never been interrogated or whatever you call it. >> i was definitely pro law enforcement. they seemed like they would be good people. >> here is the thing. this is phil and alex talking here. when i was 16 i didn't want my mom know what i was frickin' doing. >> made me seem more comfortable
saying me and you talking, almost seemed as if it was off record. >> do you think it was something just went wrong? >> he is providing a scenario which is not unusual for a detective to do, an investigator to do. >> gets into a frenzy. >> i knew my girlfriend was outside and couple of friends were waiting for me back home to come back. we were going to have a fire out in the woods. >> but before alex leaves, police ask him to take a lie detector test on a computerized voice stress analyzer or cvsa. >> what this is, it measures telling the truth. as long as you have no problem. >> once again he's asked a
series of questions about the homicide. >> do you know how they were killed? >> looks like someone broke in and murdered them from what i heard. i'm guessing they tried to fight back or something. >> what do you think should happen to the people that killed your aunt and uncle? >> i think they should be locked up. >> is there any reason you shouldn't pass? >> alex thinks it's over but the detective tells him the computer malfunctioned. >> every once in a while you get a blue screen, the computer shuts down. that's what happened with this one, it shut down. we've got two, we use them so often. i'll get this cranked up.
>> you're going to have to reload the questions. >> computers, i think as we all know, although they are of great assistance, sometimes they are a problem. i've seen that happen in other investigations by other law enforcement agents. if the question is is that a ploy by the examiner, i don't believe it was. i don't have any evidence to indicate that it was. >> still, alex seems bothered by the mishap. >> i'll have you out of here before you know it. alex, do me a favor. take the microphone and hold it in front of your mouth. >> i've never heard of a voice analysis. i was doing everything i could to try to clear up whatever their thoughts were. i had no doubts on the answers i give him. i was extremely confident. >> but alex will remain in the sheriff's department deep into the night as the atmosphere in the interrogation room radically changes.
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relieves nasal congestion. nyquil® cold and flu doesn't. do you know for certain who killed your aunt and uncle? >> no. >> one more time. do you know for certain who killed your aunt and uncle? >> no. >> hernando county, florida, april 10th, 2008. >> is this the month of april? >> a sheriff's detective administers a lie detector december to alex bostick repeatedly asking about his elderly relatives slain in the course of a burglary in the rural community of masaryktown a few years earlier.
>> methodically investigators compile the results of the computer arrived voice stress analyzer or cvsa exam. alex is unprepared for what comes next. >> this is indicative of a lie, a very strong lie. that question was, do you know who killed your aunt and uncle. this obviously shows you're lying, you do know. this test you lied on both questions. >> that was the truth. >> no, it's not. >> it's a lie, brother. >> they were definitely lying about the voice analysis. i was doing my best to answer any question they had about this. >> i know the examiner.
i'm not a cvsa expert by any means. based on the materials he had, that was his opinion. >> i haven't done anything. >> i'm telling you, you failed it miss really. >> can i retake it? >> no. it's twice you've taken it and failed it miss really. i want to work with you. i'm not going to work with you if you keep lying to me. >> i was getting quite disturbed with the entire situation and stating to them clearly several times, i couldn't even tell you how many that i wasn't there and i was innocent. >> please stop for a second. >> i don't want to you touch me. >> i'm sorry. >> what you do -- >> i didn't do anything. i don't know where i could have been. i don't know. i'm so scared, it's not even funny. i'm so [ bleep ] scared. i don't know what to do. >> he definitely took away any personal space that was there. when we had first started
talking, he was i believe on the opposite side of the table from me. a little further into the interrogation, he had moved his chair up towards mine and was sitting rather close. >> that whole body language, kinetic thing, i know there's a theory behind it, rubbing their shoulder, their back or patting them on the knee, you know, it will be already. i'll take care of things. >> over and over again detective phil tries to fill out alex by downplaying his role in the murders portraying the teen in an unknowing accomplice in a robbery gone wrong. >> you probably wanted to puke when it happened. you wanted to puke when this happened. >> as nightfall descends on the hernando county sheriff's office, alex's mother sherry bostick maintains a vigil outside the interrogation room.
>> they said we're going to close the station. have you to wait inside. >> i said my son is in here. i want my son. i said we're not done talking with him yeltsin. >> can i please -- >> we're going to resolve. >> not allowing my mother come in definitely worsened the situation a lot. from the lower self-esteem or lower confidence level i was at, it just plummeted from there. >> were you [ bleep ] up. >> no. i haven't done any weed or alcohol in my entire life. >> slowly alex says the detectives suggestions about what happened at the room. >> i don't remember anything, unless they gave me something. i'm trying.
>> you've been carrying the weight of this around for way too long, man. >> i'm trying to find anything. i don't remember going inside of their house. >> you were there, man. you were there. >> i was inside? >> you were at the house. >> was i inside? i'm trying to play a scenario that would make sense. that would pop up in my head. something that was true. >> i was definitely trying to put together anything i could that would help. >> i'm trying to remember. all i see is little flashes. it all looks like i'm trying to make something up. >> go ahead, brother. it's okay. you can tell me. >> after more than five hours in the box, alex is ready to tell the story he thinks police want to hear. >> i don't know how i could have done something like that. oh this is soft.
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central florida april 10th, 2008. >> tell me how it went down there. >> i didn't do it, man. >> how it went bad. >> after denying his role in a double homicide for several hours, alex bostick is about to tell hernando county investigators about the deaths of his elderly relatives pat and evelyn depalma two years earlier. >> son, we're past -- i'm trying to tell you. i know we're past it. i'm afraid of going to jail. >> for much of the interrogation, alex has refused to place himself anywhere near the crime scene. now he said he visited the depalma home with two older acquaintances named keith and ryan to commit a burglary.
the story is consistent with the theory detective phil laken has been advancing in the interview room. >> i wouldn't be capable of doing anything like that, which is why the story i came up with included the two other suspects. >> they gave me something but i didn't want to take it. >> they were funny round pills. >> do you remember how many there were. >> there was a couple. try to get drugs, something. >> when else would you be trying to find? >> all he would look forward to was money. >> i thought if he heard a little bit whaf he wanted to hear, i was going to get let go. >> i was outside. >> you were outside? where outside were you? >> going to keith's car. >> for what? >> his phone. >> when you went back inside the house, tell me what you knew and
what you saw, what you heard. >> they were hollering a little bit. >> who was hollering and what were they saying while they were hollering. >> something wasn't supposed to happen. >> what wasn't supposed to happen. >> he was killing them. >> i guess mainly from watching tv, i pieced together how i think a murder scene would go down. >> sometime during the night prosecutor, former dade county police officer, receives a call from the sheriff's office. >> i said, well, don't arrest him for the murder. perhaps at best he may be an accessory. >> i wasn't there. please stop asking me these questions. >> bostick said i don't know. by my count 285 times, i can't or i don't remember 283 times.
>> what are you going to tell me something went bad. >> i don't know. >> what the detective felt were admissions to certainly factual aspects were only made after the detective directly or indirectly provided that information to mr. bostick. >> it's all right. you've heard quite a bit so far. you're doing a good job. >> i'll check right now. if they didn't leave, tell them i love them. >> i will. >> by about 11:00 that night, my ex-husband showed up banging on the doors for someone to let us in and get to my son. the detectives looked at me and said he was there. he was at the crime scene when it happened. and i said, he's a good boy, you
know. he doesn't deserve this. he said ted bundy's mother said he was a good boy, too. >> the hernando county sheriff's office declined to discuss alex's case with msnbc. when alex's father, david bostick, finally gains access to the interrogation room, the teen has been there for more than eight hours. >> just relax. breathe. >> one thing he's always been able to do is keep me calm. >> i came here today and i didn't believe i had anything to do with it until they told me the lie detector said and they had all this evidence. >> that's all kind of a ploy. >> alex's parents are about to deliver the worst news possible. >> you are being charged -- >> with -- >> murder. i'm sorry. we're right in the middle of it. we'll have the attorney here and do as much as we can as soon as we can.
>> i'm calling him again right now. he said, what are they going to do to me? i wiped his tears, and i was just like, i don't know. >> where are we going? >> we're going for a ride, brother. >> because he was 16 at the time of the murders, alex is transported to a juvenile detention facility where he's placed in solitary confinement. >> i knew there was only two things that could happen. either they were going to figure out they were wrong and i was going to be okay or i was going to sit in jail for a while. >> there was a meeting later on in the morning with the sheriff's office. they were of the belief that the interview of him was sufficient and that further dna testing would prove that. i can remember saying, well, his