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Learn to avoid confirmation bias.

We were asked to look at the death of a three month old infant child. The father had been charged with capital murder and the police were in no mood to show even the most minor of doubt as to the guilt of the suspect.

Mostly the law enforcement confidence in their suspect’s guilt came from the suspect’s brother, who was a real problem in the community.. The brother had a bad reputation for violence, with numerous arrests for domestic violence and assault, as well as a stint in prison. However, something about the case seemed problematic and did not ring true. The investigation leading to arrest seemed to have a lot of investigative leads that were never looked at.

We started with a review of the case reports and made an exacting and detailed Timeline. This should be a standard for all case initiation. We interviewed every witness who had been around the victim. We noted the victim had slowly bled to death from an injury to the stomach. The father came home from work and reported finding the victim lifeless. EMT arrived within minutes. The EMT first responders’ notes were also very unusual, describing that the victim’s eyes were lifeless and had lost color. The medical experts stated that it would have taken a good deal of time for death to occur form the injury. Something did not fit for the father to have committed the crime.

We interviewed the EMT, and what he told us turned the case around. The EMT said that he believed the infant was dead when they arrived on scene. However, the ambulance had a policy of always transporting to the hospital, resulting in the baby being declared an hour later. We interviewed another family member that had been present with the victim all day. This person had never been interviewed by police. She admitted who had really caused the injury. Another elderly male at the residence had kicked the swing the infant was in, causing the injury to the stomach that caused the child’s death. This suspect later admitted causing the injury. The father was released and later reunited with his family.

During our investigation, we presented our case to law enforcement. The investigator’s response was, ‘this is a very compelling case, I am not sure we can win”. Confirmation bias had not only caused the father to be the immediate best suspect but there was difficult in seeing the case any other way. The father has since been reunited with his family and they have moved forward.