This morning three men were arrested in the rape and murder of Amanda Blackburn, the wife of Pastor Davey Blackburn. Many (and this would probably be a very high portion of people who have been speculating on the Internet) are quite surprised that Amanda Blackburn's husband actually did not have a hand in her murder because they found his behavior and statements following (and prior to) her death to be extraordinarily bizarre for a normal human being and indicative of guilt, that he either personally killed his wife or he hired someone to do it. Others, especially Christians and those from the pastor's church are feeling vindicated and are saying that those who thought the pastor guilty of the horrendous crime of murdering his wife had rushed to judgment and didn't understand a man of faith's reaction to a terrible event.
I think this case is quite fascinating and I plan to use it in future teaching of law enforcement about statement analysis and how it should be used as a tool within investigation, how to understand the results within the context of the totality of evidence. Also, how to determine if what the person-of-interest does or says is truly an indicator of guilt or is out of character or is representative of other issues - like a personality disorder or culture or subculture. Human beings are complicated and analyzing what they say and do is complicated as well.
There are some rules which should be followed when approaching the matter:
Physical or extremely convincing circumstantial evidence should ALWAYS back up behavior and verbal evidence before convicting a person of a crime. Two cases come to mind in which men were convicted based on almost entirely behavioral and verbal evidence, cases in which the majority of the public are pretty sure the right person was convicted but, in reality, we could be looking at seemingly guilty behaviors but not necessarily guilty men. One case is Drew Peterson who recently lost an appeal in his conviction of the murder of his estranged wife, Kathleen Savio, who was found dead in her bathtub. There was no physical evidence connecting Peterson to her death, not even proof that he was in the vicinity of her home on the night she died. Yet, he was convicted on hearsay testimony, his very psychopathic behavior, the fact his present wife went missing and circumstantial evidence, and the fact he is the most likely person to want Savio dead. In reality, someone else could have killed Savio and Peterson been perfectly fine with that (oh, lucky me!); someone could have saved him the trouble. I personally think he is guilty of the crime as his behaviors and statements seem to support, but I am not sure if I were on the jury I would have handed down a guilty verdict just because he is a psychopath and he SHOULD be the guy who did it.
The other case is that of Michael Skakel who recently did get an appeal in his conviction of the murder of Martha Moxley. I am glad he got his appeal because this was a travesty of a case in which a man got convicted on absolutely no physical evidence and very weak circumstantial evidence. In fact, Michael Skakel got convicted solely on a couple of statements he made as a teen decades ago and because the jury didn't like him. A good analysis of the crime actually points AWAY from Michael Skakel and there were far better suspects than him (which the police were much more interested in at the time), but Skakel got convicted because the jury found him creepy.
Which brings me back to Davey Blackburn. "Creepy" was the Number One adjective given by almost all following this case. People were creeped out by his sex sermons, creeped out by his demeanor, creeped out by his seemingly upbeat acceptance of his wife's brutal demise, creeped out by his talk of "good things" coming from her murder...I could go on and on. Regardless of what some Christians and those in his church feel about Pastor Blackburn, that he somehow represents a man of strong faith, I will say as a criminal profiler who has spent many years in Christian churches and known a number of pastors, Davey Blackburn's behaviors and statements have all the hallmarks of a narcissitic personality disorder. Lay people speculating on the case were not off in left field to feel something was odd about his demeanor, that his reactions to the murder were not normal for the average person. But, his behaviors actually were not totally inconsistant with a narcissistic personality disordered individual who may have a problematic marriage who has difficultly connecting with others or feeling empathy for them, and who has chosen a vocation in which a narcissistic personality disorder can be an asset. His response to his wife's murder may well have been a mix of a crisis of faith (his version of faith in which he has set himself up to be a favored son of God), a relief as an answer to dealing with a difficult marriage, and a business opportunity which he can capitalize on.
Which brings me to this point: what you are before a crime occurs is who you are after a crime occurs. We are actually NEVER "out of character" and this is what the detectives need to determine when they analyze a crime. Is the man who kills his wife when he finds out she is having an affair committing a "crime of passion" or has he always had a borderline personality disorder and her betrayal was too much for his ego to stand? He didn't go from being an emotionally healthy indivdidual to a killer overnight; a person without a personality disorder will be upset about infidelity but not kill over it. And what happens when a psychopath's wife is murdered by someone else? Since a psychopath has no empathy, he might be mad someone took his toy away, but he might be ecstatic that he got a bunch of money from the life insurance policy he forced his wife to get and he may be out dating other women the following weekend. He might seem totally guilty of killing his wife (and he might actually have thought about it, maybe even planned it for the following month!) but have nothing to do with her death. Yet, red flags will go up for the investigators because of his behaviors and statements. This is the kind of stuff they have to deal with. Sometimes, though, a psychopath or narcissist will have odd behaviors and statements but in the interview actually so no signs of deception, so in spite of his oddness, the detectives will be following other leads.
This may well have been true in the case of Pastor Blackburn. He may have raised the detectives' hinky meter but came across truthful in his actual interviews and the evidence pointed away from him. Or they may have been keeping an eye on him while pursuing other leads.
On the other hand, I worked a case where the detectives did a great interview of a man who "found the bodies" but because they jumped to a conclusion that the crime was a gang killing, they ignored the very odd statements the man made during the interview. Now, mind you, he was a psychopath and a drug dealer and because of this, they just tossed off whatever he said as, well, you know, guys like this say weird things, but, in reality, he was confessing to the crime in his twisted statements, deception was rampant, and the physical evidence at the crime scene indicated he was lying and supported his role in the murders. Statement analysis was very useful in pointing to his guilt, but the detectives failed to do any analysis of his words and simply interviewed him as a witness and filed the report.
Good investigation keeps analysis in proper perspective and continues to view the totality of the evidence in making investigative choices.
For a last example of how one must take all the evidence into account and rule things out or in, the door to the house was unlocked. Was Pastor Blackburn responsible for leaving the door unlocked? If not, then this is not suspicious. But, if he did, the detectives have to determine if this was regular behavior (maybe both he and Amanda were not big on locking doors) or if this was a one-time behavior and if it was, why? Was he distracted and accidentally left it unlocked? Is he feeling horribly guilty over that Or, if he is a narcissist, not feeling any guilt at all? Or, did he leave it open on purpose so someone could enter and kill his wife? The police have to consider this. They have to make sure he did not know any of the men involved. He could have met them through the gym or throuugh evangelizing. Who knows? The detectives have to rule out all possibilities. And, if they have ruled out these possibilities, then we have a man whose statement analysis threw up a dozen red flags and suggested possible guilt but, in fact, what we really were dealing with was a man with a likely narcissistic personality disorder whose mission of church building and love of the spotlight made him appear guilty of a crime he did not commit.
To sum up, statement analysis and behavioral analysis is an excellent tool for investigation but it must be used in conjunction with solid crime scene analysis and physical and cicumstantial evidence. All of these tools together make for a successful investigation, a proper arrest, and a solid prosecution. True justice lies in getting all the pieces of the puzzle to fit in place without forcing them, to solve the crime accurately, not just close it for the sake of putting it to rest.