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581: Anatomy of Doubt

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Prologue

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. And I want to tell you about two police investigations. One of them is done so inspiringly well, it's like the detectives in it are like detectives on a television show-- smart and resourceful and great judgment and just police at their very best. The other case-- the same crime, lots of the same facts-- is the opposite. It goes terribly.

And the investigation that goes wrong goes wrong in a very unusual way. It's like a game of telephone, where one misunderstanding begets another misunderstanding begets another, until something that is not true spreads to an entire community of people and somehow hardens into the truth. And it happens incredibly fast. It happens in just three days.

And just to get in front of this, the crime that we're going to be talking about this hour is a sexual assault. If that's a trigger for you, consider this a warning. And one of the first phone calls in this chain comes right after the crime. This is back in August, 2008. A woman named Shannon was standing on her balcony in a Seattle suburb when she got the phone call. It was from an 18-year-old she knew named Marie, who told her she'd been woken up in the night by a stranger who raped her.

Shannon

And I asked her, are you OK? And she said she was OK and that she was going to be staying, I think, with a friend that night. And when my husband got home, I told him what had happened. But I said, I don't know that it happened.

There's something about how she said it that just made me question whether or not she'd actually been raped. It was the tone of her voice. There was just no emotion. It was like she was telling me that she'd made a sandwich. I just made myself a chicken sandwich.

Ira Glass

Shannon felt awful doubting Marie. She'd known Marie for years. Marie was a foster child who had stayed with Shannon and her husband very briefly-- just a couple weeks-- when she was younger. And they'd all hit it off. And she stayed close with Marie even after Marie went to live in another foster home. They'd hang out together, cook together. They gave up carbs together for a few weeks.

Shannon loved Marie. She saw herself in Marie. They were alike in lots of ways. That was actually part of her doubt. Marie was emotional. She did cry, like Shannon.

Shannon

If I had been raped, I would have been hysterical. I would have been crying, really upset because I was sexually abused as a child. And I was sexually assaulted as an adult. And I never told anyone for years and years. And when I did tell someone, I was hysterical, emotional and crying and shamed.

Ira Glass

But Shannon was wrong about Marie. Marie had been raped. It was proven later beyond a shadow of a doubt. And the way her case went wrong-- you know, we've all heard stories about police not believing women who come forward and say that they were sexually assaulted. But in this case, the doubts began not with the police but with people much closer to Marie, people who love her and have the best intentions towards her.

What goes wrong in this case is something so personal, it's like people exercising empathy and getting it wrong. And then that mistake spreads to officials and friends and acquaintances until it is impossible for them all to see the truth, even when new proof comes to light, even when it's all right there in front of them.

Our reporting today is a partnership with The Marshall Project and ProPublica. The first part of the story takes place mostly in Lynnwood, Washington, near Seattle. Marshall Project investigative reporter Ken Armstrong and one of our producers, Robyn Semien, will explain how all this unfolded, starting with Ken, who'll explain a little more about Marie.

Act One: Act One

Ken Armstrong

Marie gets along with people. She's good at it. It's important to her. She moved around a lot when she was a kid in the foster care system-- she thinks 10 or 11 different families, not including group homes. But she did well in a group, looked forward to high school, loved her classes, liked to hike and go to the beach with her friends, really got into photography.

At 18, she was proud of herself for surviving the foster care system, got a job at Costco, her own apartment.

Marie

It was just nice to be on my own and not have all the rules that I had had when being in foster care. And it was just like freedom. So it was just awesome.

Ken Armstrong

She kept in touch with previous foster families, like Shannon and her last foster mom, Peggy. Shannon was the fun adult in Marie's life. They were goofballs together. They'd have sleepovers at Shannon's house, laugh a lot. Peggy, who'd been Marie's foster mom from 16 to 18, was more serious and teacherly, more tough love, more worried about Marie's big personality and free spirit getting in the way of Marie's becoming a responsible young adult.

Peggy lived close, and on the morning of the assault, Peggy was the first adult Marie called. This is Peggy.

Peggy

It was so early in the morning, I just left, and I drove over there immediately. So the police were there. And Marie was sitting on the floor crying. I sat down next to her, and she was telling me what happened. And I got this-- I'm a big Law and Order fan. And I just got this really weird feeling. It was like-- I felt like she was telling me the script of a Law and Order story.

She was detached. Detached. Emotionally detached from what she was saying. It felt like, just, what's this drama going on? But still, there was a part of me that was like, oh, my God. I mean, if it is real, I need to respond.

Marie

I remember being in shock and shaking in a blanket in the corner. They asked me a few questions about what had happened, and I had told them I'd left my door unlocked and that someone had broken into my apartment and raped me.

Robyn Semien

Again, this is Marie. She's 25 now. A quick warning-- what she told police is difficult to hear and definitely not for kids. Here's what happened-- Marie was home by herself, and she was awake all night talking on the phone with her ex-boyfriend, Jordan.

Marie

I got off the phone and went to sleep and then opened my eyes, and there was somebody in my house. He had a knife in his hand and was wearing a mask. He blindfolded me and gagged me and tied my hands behind my back.

Robyn Semien

He raped her. He went through her stuff. He took pictures. He knew her name. Marie prayed he wouldn't kill her.

Marie

And then, after he was done with everything, he said that I shouldn't have left my door unlocked. I guess I must have left it unlocked, the sliding glass door. And he just said that he was sorry and it all looked better in his head than when he did it to me.

Robyn Semien

He said if she went to the police, he'd put the pictures he had of her online.

Ken Armstrong

When the police arrived at Marie's apartment, they did what you'd expect-- they processed the crime scene. A crime scene technician snapped photos of the place. It didn't look like much, an 18-year-old's tidy, bare-bones apartment-- a sofa, a bike, a desktop computer on the floor in the corner. The bed was unmade, green comforter on the floor, a messy sheet.

Marie was blindfolded, and her attacker wore a mask, so there wasn't a real description. He wore gloves to avoid fingerprints. He wore a condom. But there was physical evidence. The police got fingerprints off the sliding glass door. Just beyond the glass door, on the back porch, it looked like someone had brushed off a dusty railing while climbing over it.

Police collected the bedding, hoping for DNA-- maybe fibers or hairs. Marie was examined by a doctor. There was a rape kit and a report noting bruising on both of Marie's wrists, plus other bruising and abrasions consistent with sexual activity. When police searched the apartment, they found the things Marie had said the man had used-- the knife, the makeshift blindfold and gag, the shoelaces used to tie her up with.

That's when Marie realized that all of those things were hers to begin with. The knife was from her kitchen. The shoelaces came from her sneakers out in the living room.

Ira Glass

Peggy remembers hearing about the shoelaces and adding them to her list of things that just didn't make sense.

Peggy

And I just-- the whole thing with the shoelaces, I was like, first of all, is a shoelace strong enough to tie somebody's wrists with?

Robyn Semien

Then, that same day, Marie called several of her friends, not just her closest ones, to tell them about the rape. For Peggy, this behavior fit into a bigger picture she had of Marie-- attention-seeking, too flaunty, too flirty, loud, not really aware of how she was coming off in public. Like at the grocery store, riding around in carts with her friends, getting really silly, Peggy said.

Peggy was often telling Marie she needed to tone it down. So to Peggy, Marie calling everyone she knew and saying, "hey, I got raped," didn't seem right to her. She wondered, was this rape story one more way to get attention? Marie, meanwhile, says, sure. She was calling everyone she knew for what she thought was a good reason.

Marie

I think I did that because I didn't want it to happen to anybody else. I just wanted to let people know that there was somebody out there hurting people. It wasn't the first time I had been raped-- when I was little and I was living with my mom. I never told anybody about that stuff, that it happened to me when I was a kid. I just held it all in and did my whole pretending like stuff didn't happen.

And, you know, I don't know if that guy ever got away or ended up hurting other people because I never told anybody, never talked to anybody about it. But I didn't want this time to be like that. I wanted to be able to try to talk about it and get it out.

Robyn Semien

So Marie was calling around. And later that day-- or maybe it was the next morning-- Peggy made a phone call of her own, to Shannon, the other main adult in Marie's life. Here's Peggy.

Peggy

I just said, I don't know what the hell is going on. I can't tell, you know. I was like, oh, my God. She's telling me that she got raped. But I felt-- I just felt horrible. I felt horrible that I didn't believe her.

And so I think Shannon must have just picked up on that. And then she was like, Peggy, you're not the only one that doesn't believe her. She's acting very strange. She's telling everybody about it. She's calling everybody that she knows and telling them. This doesn't seem like what you would do.

Robyn Semien

Shannon remembers that phone call with Peggy, too.

Shannon

Well, Peggy also didn't believe her. So looking back, we may have fed on each other's doubts about what had happened.

Ken Armstrong

The day after the rape, Shannon helped Marie moved out of her apartment. Marie's case manager, who was helping her transition from foster care, was also there. And Shannon says that whole day, she kept noticing these things, little things, and each one deepened her suspicion.

Marie wouldn't look her in the eye. She wouldn't hug her. She didn't want to talk about the rape. Instead, she was giggling, rolling around on the grass, being flirty, as Shannon saw it, with the case manager.

Shannon

For me, the thing that cemented my doubts was she was given, like, a Visa card to go pick out new sheets and bedding because the police had taken them for evidence. So we went back to the place where she had gotten the original ones. And she was furious that she couldn't buy the same set because she really liked it.

I'm thinking, why would you want to have the same sheets and bedspread to look at every day when you'd been raped on this bed set? I said, why would you want to have those sheets to remind you? And she goes, because I like them. I just thought that was such a strange response.

That was the only time I saw her get mad the whole day.

Ken Armstrong

Do you think you were starting to look for things that didn't ring true?

Shannon

I don't know if I was looking for them. They just kept popping up. I mean, flirting with the manager and rolling in the grass and giggling.

Ken Armstrong

Shannon confronted Marie about what she saw as her odd behavior.

Shannon

I did. No, I told her that I had doubts about whether or not she was telling the truth.

Ken Armstrong

And how did she react?

Shannon

She would get upset. And she'd say, "you know, I'm not really a liar. Why would I lie about this thing?"

Peggy

Here's what I thought.

Ken Armstrong

Again, this is Peggy. Peggy had her own theory for why Marie might be lying about this.

Peggy

I thought, OK. In my mind, Marie got herself into trouble. She got carried away with some kind of sexual encounter. And she let somebody take pictures of her. And now they're going to get out on the internet, and she's trying to backtrack.

And maybe I didn't trust the police. And maybe I didn't think they were understanding the nature of my daughter's personality, you know? I mean, it's more histrionics, like a histrionic personality. It seemed like her next tactic to try to get my attention.

Robyn Semien

One day after the rape, Peggy called the lead detective on the case, Detective Jeffrey Mason.

Jeffrey Mason

She asked if she could meet with me in person. And so I agreed, went to her residence, met with her. She was having questions about the story that was being told, whether it was truthful or not. She seemed, you know, sincere. She was trying to pass on information that-- and maybe sincere is not the correct terminology. But, I mean, she was just-- she expressed a lot of concern and caring for Marie but also had a lot of questions on whether she was reporting the truth or not.

Ken Armstrong

Sergeant Mason didn't have a lot of experience investigating sexual assault. Marie's was only the second or third case that he'd worked on.

Ken Armstrong

How much weight did you give Peggy's opinion of Marie's credibility or of the potential truthfulness of what Marie said had happened?

Jeffrey Mason

I gave it enough weight to steer the investigation to where I need to talk to Marie further.

Robyn Semien

Was there anything that you were using that was evidence-based to get you to this moment of wanting to talk to her again about her credibility?

Jeffrey Mason

No.

Ken Armstrong

Sergeant Mason says there were a few other elements to Marie's story that had caused him to question her. But it was really the call from Peggy that changed everything. He talks to his partner, and three days after the attack, Detective Mason calls Marie.

Marie

And they said they needed to see me. And I just-- all of a sudden, I was just like, am I in trouble? That was my first-- before I said anything else on the phone. Am I in trouble?

Jeffrey Mason

One of the first things she said was, "am I in trouble?" And that just-- well, in the 25 years in law enforcement, my experience has been people that ask that are usually in trouble.

Marie

They said, well, we just need you to come into the police station.

Robyn Semien

Mason and his partner, Detective Jerry Rittgarn, took Marie back to a conference room to talk. And it was a very different conversation from the first time police talked to Marie. Now it was an interrogation. She says the first thing they did was tell her they'd spoken to Peggy, and they'd spoken to her ex-boyfriend, Jordan, and neither of them believed her about being raped.

Peggy was one thing, but Jordan was a friend. He and Marie spoke all the time. They talked about maybe getting back together. And he'd been supportive and sympathetic about the rape. Marie suddenly had to try and figure out what these detectives meant.

Marie

The police were very closed off on telling me anything that Peggy or Jordan said. They wouldn't tell me anything that they said at all because he wanted me to tell him. And I couldn't. So he was just like, "yeah, is there any reason why he wouldn't believe you?" And I said, "I don't know."

Robyn Semien

We talked to Jordan, and he says he never doubted Marie, and he never told the police he did. In any case, both detectives wrote in their reports that Marie seemed unsure of her story. Detective Rittgarn wrote that he found Marie to be making, quote, "deceptive statements to include that she thought certain things had happened rather than she was positive that this happened." Rittgarn noted that she didn't, quote, "take a stand and demand that she had been raped." Detectives made it clear to Marie they needed to be convinced.

Years later, there was an outside review of the case by a police investigator, a sex crime specialist named Sergeant Gregg Rinta. His report said, quote, "The manner in which she was treated by Sergeant Mason and Detective Rittgarn can only be labeled as bullying and coercive." Detective Rittgarn declined to talk to us.

Sergeant Rinta's review went on, quote, "If this hadn't been documented in their reports, I would have been skeptical that this actually happened." The victim's credibility, quote, "became the focus of the investigation, and all of the strong evidence that pointed to a serious felony crime was completely ignored." Here's Marie.

Marie

Is there really some guy out there that we need to be looking for or did you just make this up? And they just started asking me all these questions and just grilling at me. And I just started crying. I was crying, and I was upset. I didn't understand what was going on, really.

I just-- I'm still in shock that they didn't believe me. I was mad, too. I did pound my hand on the table and stuff like that. And the only way they would leave me alone is if I wrote a statement saying that it didn't happen.

Robyn Semien

So she did. She first wrote, quote, "I dreamed someone broke in and raped me." The detectives then insisted that she rewrite it, and not write that she had dreamed it but that she had lied.

There are lots of reasons a victim of sex abuse might consciously choose to say something different from what happened-- shame, fear of retribution. But Marie says that isn't what was happening with her. She started having moments where she actually couldn't tell if she'd been raped.

Marie

Like, I was trying to be really honest about everything. And possibly maybe I had dreamt that stuff that first day, maybe I had dreamt it up and that it maybe didn't happen and stuff like that. And so those doubts were coming out when I was talking to them. And they just started disbelieving me even more.

And then all of a sudden, I just started thinking-- I was like, did this really just happen to me, this whole thing? In my mind, I was second-guessing somebody coming into my house and doing all this stuff, you know? Is it possible that I just imagined that? Because why would something like that happen to me?

Robyn Semien

I ran how Marie describes this-- not being sure herself that the assault happened-- by an expert on sex assault trauma and how it affects the brain. She said that this kind of cognitive separation, she called it, while not common, does happen, that it's directly related to the sheer shock an assault has on a person-- like, for example, being awoken by a stranger with a knife-- and that people who have been sexually abused before, like Marie, are at a much higher risk for this happening. Add foster care to that and the risk is greater.

Marie

At the end of that day, I was just like, fine. It all didn't happen because now I have nobody that believes me. I just wanted it to be over with. So--

Robyn Semien

So Marie did something familiar to her. She has a way to deal with terrible things happening to her that are out of her control, what she calls flipping the switch.

Marie

That feeling switch inside, just, I turned it to not really caring about the emotion and thought, well, I'll just turn off that switch. And I won't have to deal with them right now. Just, I want to get out of here.

Robyn Semien

What does it look like when you kind of decide to flip the switch and stop caring so much? What is that-- how does your demeanor change when you're speaking to the police officer?

Marie

Well, I'm not crying anymore and looking at them when I'm talking to them. I think I was giggling, which is something I do when I'm nervous, like I just pretended like that didn't just really happen, you know, and went in the bathroom after that and cleaned up and just kind of acted like it was fine.

Robyn Semien

Both detectives noticed the switch. Rittgarn wrote, quote, "Her visual appearance and body language became remarkably different. She appeared less stressed, stopped crying, and even laughed a little." Marie wrote her final statement for the detectives at their insistence-- quote, "I made up this story," she wrote.

Tv Announcer

King 5 News starts now.

Male News Anchor

Good evening. Your--

Female News Anchor

Police in Lynnwood now say a woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted by a stranger made up the story.

Ken Armstrong

This news story ran one day after Marie met with detectives and wrote those statements.

Female News Anchor

Earlier this week, the 18-year-old told detectives a man had broken into her apartment, raped her, and then stayed for an extended period of time. But upon further questioning, the woman admitted the assault did not happen. Detectives do not know why she made the story up.

Ken Armstrong

At least three other stations aired similar stories. Reporters chased it.

Marie

Like, I had to hide. Like, I had to wear a sweatshirt over my face and sneak out of my apartment because there were just so many, just pounding on my door.

Ken Armstrong

The backlash was immediate. Marie got hate-filled Myspace messages, angry phone calls. One of Marie's best friends from high school put up a website attacking Marie, warning people she was a liar. It had the police reports with the statement she'd written about making up the story. It had her name and her picture.

For Marie, it was too much. Police didn't believe her. Her foster moms didn't believe her. And it was all over the news. It felt like the world had turned against her. And remember, she was 18 years old, trying to figure this out.

She wanted a lawyer. And she had a support system that could have helped her find one. She lived in her own apartment, but it was subsidized by a nonprofit that helped teenagers like Marie transition out of foster care. Project Ladder, it was called. They taught life skills like how to use a credit card, how to shop for groceries. They were there to give her a hand.

So she asked them to help her find a lawyer. Instead, her case manager called the police, who told him there was no evidence that a rape had occurred. They did not get her a lawyer.

Marie

So then they said, OK. Well, we're going to go to the police station. You're going to tell them that. You're going to tell them that it really did happen. You're going to be honest.

Ken Armstrong

When they got to the station, Detective Mason, the lead detective in her case, wasn't there. He was out that day. So detective Rittgarn grabbed another cop to help out. Here's Marie.

Marie

I told him that I wanted to recant and that it really did happen. They should be out there looking for a rapist.

Ken Armstrong

Rittgarn didn't believe her. The other cop didn't know the case and was just following Rittgarn's lead. Marie says one of the detectives told her that if she kept insisting she was raped, she might have to take a polygraph test.

Marie

He told me that if I took a lie detector test and it came back that I was lying, that he was going to take me to jail himself.

Ken Armstrong

Using a polygraph on a rape victim is a mistake, a big enough one that the federal government can withhold money from states if their police departments do it. The tests are seen as a deterrent to women coming forward to report sexual assault. Plus, they're famously unreliable, especially on someone who's traumatized.

Rittgarn's report says it was actually Marie who brought up the polygraph, not the cops. But what's not in dispute is that once the idea of a polygraph came up, Detective Rittgarn used it to threaten Marie. It's a tactic police use when they're interrogating someone they suspect in a crime. Detective Rittgarn told Marie that if she failed the polygraph, he'd recommend she lose her housing assistance and get jail time.

Marie

Well, that scared me, so I didn't want to do that. And so I was like, OK, never mind. It really didn't happen. I didn't want to go to jail.

Robyn Semien

That night, the Project Ladder managers called a meeting.

Elisabeth

It was just an emergency meeting. And they didn't tell anybody why until everybody got there.

Robyn Semien

This is Elisabeth, another former foster kid in the Project Ladder program. She was there at the meeting, along with nine or so others, mostly girls, and the program managers, sitting in chairs in a circle. Marie remembers it as the lowest moment of this whole ordeal, the one time she thought about suicide. Again, here's Elisabeth.

Elisabeth

Marie stood up. And she was crying. And she said that she had lied about what had happened.

Robyn Semien

To the group?

Elisabeth

To the group. Yeah, everybody. I mean, it just felt like she was just forced to say that and that it was-- I mean, there was nothing in her words or actions that she meant. I mean, it was more of defeat is what it sounded like, just kind of giving up on trying to prove herself. She just seemed devastated and lost.

Robyn Semien

It actually sounds really confusing from your perspective. Were you wondering, why is she being made to say this?

Elisabeth

I mean, I really was because I didn't know her. And at first, I didn't really know what to believe. You know, it's just kind of an odd thing to say, "oh, well I made it up." I think maybe my own personal experiences kind of came through when she said that. And I kind of--

Robyn Semien

What kind of personal experiences?

Elisabeth

I've-- I was sexually assaulted. And so, I mean, being afraid of saying anything, and then not having anybody to believe you, and then just kind of trying to forget about it, I guess, trying to--

Robyn Semien

Trying to move on or something.

Elisabeth

Move on. Yeah.

Robyn Semien

Elisabeth felt for Marie. She says there were a couple others who looked like they did, too. But they were in the minority. Mainly, Marie says, people were angry.

Marie

They were pretty mad about it. One of the girls, she was calling me and making threats at me, thought I was a liar and basically mentally ill for making up something like that.

Robyn Semien

I spoke to one of the meeting's angry girls. She didn't want to be interviewed, but she told me she thought Marie had lied, and it did make her mad. But she also said-- and Elisabeth told me this, too-- there was something so obvious and transparent about the premise of the meeting. It was a message to everyone-- we're making her tell you this so none of you think about doing it. If you do, you'll lose your housing.

Elisabeth described the woman running the meeting as fuming. We reached out to the Project Ladder managers, but they never replied. Elisabeth stuck by Marie, and one other friend. Friend-wise, that was about it. Elisabeth says Marie was avoided like--

Elisabeth

The plague. Yeah. I mean, that's exactly how it was. People treated her like she was-- they couldn't get far enough away from her. And people, they were very cruel to her. Of course, the phone calls and the nasty stuff on social media. I mean, I even believe, like, when we'd walk through the parking lot or we'd go somewhere, somebody would say something, calling her a whore, and die, and just a lot of really horrible stuff.

I mean, I even remember reading one of the comments on the-- it was on the internet, but I don't remember what exactly page it was or anything. "But this bitch is the reason that nobody believes when women say they get raped."

Robyn Semien

Wow.

Elisabeth

Yeah. I mean, there was a lot of that.

Robyn Semien

Even Shannon, who meant the world to Marie. She told Marie that she couldn't spend the night at her house anymore because her husband worried she might make up a story about him. And if all that weren't enough, about a week later, Marie received a summons in the mail. Police were charging her with false reporting.

The false reporting charge meant that Marie's rape case would be officially closed. The physical evidence police had gathered at the scene was destroyed except for a single fingerprint card that was left behind. Everything else-- the rape kit, the bedding, the DNA swabs-- they were never even tested in a crime lab, never analyzed. Further evidence that could have been gathered never was.

Ken Armstrong

Two months after Marie was charged with false reporting, Shannon was sitting at home, watching the local news with her husband, when on came a story about a woman in Kirkland, another Seattle suburb, who reported being raped by a stranger who broke in, threatened her with a knife, used shoelaces to tie her up, and who took pictures and threatened to post them on the internet.

Shannon

Right away, I thought, I'm wrong. It actually happened. She was raped because this is too similar. So I immediately went in and called the Kirkland Police Department and asked to speak to the lead detective on the rape case. And I explained the whole situation about what had happened to Marie and that the Lynnwood police didn't believe her. But it was just too similar, and it had just happened.

So I asked them to call the Lynnwood police. Then he got back to me and said he did talk to them, but they had determined that she had made the whole thing up, and the case was closed. And that was the end. And it was over.

Ken Armstrong

I talked to the lead detective that Shannon spoke to and to another Kirkland detective on this case. Both remember talking to the Lynnwood PD. But when they learned the Lynnwood police didn't believe their victim, that was it. They didn't look any further. One detective said she figured the Lynnwood police knew their case best. She trusted their judgment.

Even so, one thing they both told me they were surprised by was that the Lynnwood police had gone so far as to charge Marie with false reporting. One detective remembers hanging up the phone thinking, OK. Hope that works out for you guys.

Shannon grew up in a police family. She usually figured police knew best. Not this time.

Shannon

I was upset. I thought there should have been more investigation, that it was just too similar.

Ken Armstrong

Shannon thought something had to be done. She thought Marie should get in touch with the Kirkland police herself. She told Marie--

Shannon

If it did happen, then here's a second chance to go talk to the police about what happened to you because this just happened to another woman. But she wouldn't go. And so that, then, made me doubt again. Why wouldn't she want to get involved to try and prove that she was innocent?

Ken Armstrong

Marie didn't want to talk to anybody else about the rape, especially not police again. The very thought terrified her. What she wanted, more than anything, was to put this behind her. In March of 2009, seven months after she was raped, Marie went to court to accept a plea deal on her false reporting charge. Under the deal, to get the charge dropped, she would need to meet certain conditions for a year. She'd go on supervised probation, pay $500 in court costs, and she'd get mental health counseling, not for being raped but for lying about it.

Ira Glass

Coming up-- today's program is about two police investigations of the same crime. The second investigation, where the police do a stunningly great job, in a minute, when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today's program, "Anatomy of Doubt." We have the story of two criminal investigations. One goes great, one goes about as badly as it possibly could. We now turn to the successful investigation. It happens in a suburb of Denver called Golden, Colorado. The lead detectives in this second case were very experienced, versus the lead detective in the first case, who only had done one or two other rape cases.

This was stated earlier, but I'll just repeat it here-- the content of today's program probably isn't right for little kids. Here are Ken Armstrong and Robyn Semien.

Act Two: Act Two

Robyn Semien

Two years later-- January, 2011-- Detective Stacy Galbraith got a case. A grad student, mid-20s, had been sexually assaulted in her home, raped at gunpoint. To cover his tracks, her attacker took her sheets with him and made her shower to wash off any DNA. And when she went to interview the victim, Detective Galbraith says, the victim remembered an unusual number of details about the guy, way more than any other rape victim she'd talked to before. The victim had basically chatted him up, and he told her things, like he spoke four different languages.

Stacy Galbraith

And she was able to kind of rattle off a few of those. He traveled a lot. He talked about math. He told her that he has no problem with finding girlfriends or having girlfriends. But he just doesn't like the consensual aspect of the girlfriend relationship.

Robyn Semien

The victim had a good guess of his height and weight and knew that he had a distinct mark on his leg-- a birthmark, she told Detective Galbraith, the size and shape of an egg. He'd had a camera with him, and she remembered the color and brand of the camera.

Stacy Galbraith

She described it as a pink Sony.

Robyn Semien

Detective Galbraith noted that the victim wasn't crying. She didn't seem upset.

Stacy Galbraith

She was very kind of stoic in her report of this incident. I mean, you could even say she had more of a flat affect, actually.

Ken Armstrong

Was there anything unusual about that?

Stacy Galbraith

Very unusual. Typically, I mean, I encounter somebody, say, in the hospital or on a scene that's crying, upset, much more, I would say, visibly traumatized than this victim was. She talked about this guy and the horrible-- my word is horrible-- things that he did to her for a number of hours. And in relation to other victims, they probably would have said horrible. They would have been revealing the horrible side of the things that they'd done.

She-- I remember we were walking outside for some reason. I don't know why we were outside. And she was talking about that he was a gentleman, calm, mild mannered. And I just remember just thinking, how can anyone, after this happened, call this person a gentleman?

Robyn Semien

Detective Galbraith at this point had worked dozens of rape cases, maybe 50. She admitted she didn't totally get her victim but that it didn't get in the way of her investigating the crime. Detective Galbraith talked to her husband about the case that night. And her husband, a police officer in another town, remembered a case just like it in his department in Westminster.

So Detective Galbraith contacted Westminster PD the next morning to look at their case file-- details almost identical. The lead detective on that case, Edna Hendershot, says there was one striking connection.

Edna Hendershot

In my assault, my victim was the victim of a theft, also, of a pink Sony Cyber-shot camera that was stolen from her. And Stacy knew that her victim was photographed using a pink Sony Cyber-shot camera.

Robyn Semien

Detective Hendershot also said there was a third rape in another town nearby, which made them think there could be a serial offender. The three departments did something that doesn't always happen with different police departments-- they started meeting, working together.

Each department had come up with some kind of trace DNA associated with their victims, not the definitive kind that can positively ID a suspect, but not nothing, either. The samples were tested for similarities, and the results showed that they were connected paternally, meaning the three DNA samples had to be the same guy or men in the same family.

About five weeks into Detective Stacy Galbraith's investigation, there's a big meeting. Federal, state, and local investigators are there, and a fourth local department, too. And in that meeting, someone new to the group, a female crime analyst, stands up. She'd done a search for suspicious vehicles in the vicinity of an attempted rape. Detective Hendershot says at the very end of the meeting--

Edna Hendershot

She happens to mention, just so the group knows, I came across this Mazda truck that was near this crime scene, just so the group knows. Well, when Stacy hears that, Stacy is like, wait a second. What did you say?

Stacy Galbraith

I tell them-- I said, that's a truck on our surveillance video that wasn't very relevant until right now. It just all came together, one second. It was just a [SNAPS].

Robyn Semien

Detective Stacy Galbraith had only seen the truck on a fuzzy surveillance video. But this analyst had the make, model, and license plate. It was registered to a guy named Marc O'Leary. Detective Hendershot, always reluctant to get too ahead of herself, remembers thinking--

Edna Hendershot

Wow, that's a pretty big piece of evidence, potentially.

Robyn Semien

What they needed now was a DNA sample from Marc O'Leary to see if it tied him to the crimes. So FBI agents stake out Marc's house. The plan was to wait for him to leave, then they'd split up, have a few agents follow him while others put up surveillance cameras outside his house while he was gone. When Marc leaves his house, agents trail him. But what they didn't know is that Marc O'Leary had a brother who lived with him in the same house.

So the guy they were following wasn't Marc at all but his slightly younger, similar-looking brother. So when other agents go to the apartment and knock on the door expecting it to be empty, they're shocked when Marc answers. The agents think quickly, say they're informing people in the neighborhood about a burglar. They even have a flyer with a phony suspect photo to show him. The conversation ends. Marc goes inside.

Meanwhile, Marc's brother is eating in a diner. And when he's done, agents swoop in to get DNA off his glass, which brings them closer to their answer but still not all the way there because while DNA from the brother does link the brothers' family line to the crimes, it does not tell them which brother committed them. Here's Detective Galbraith.

Stacy Galbraith

So at this point, we're like, crap. It could be either one, really. We need to see the leg of both of them--

Robyn Semien

For a birthmark. They need to see that birthmark.

Two days later, Detective Galbraith and her team go to Marc's house.

Stacy Galbraith

And Marc comes to the door. And we have weapons out. And I tell him that we have a search warrant for the house. And I pat him down to make sure he doesn't have any weapons. He's got real baggy clothes on when he comes out. And so when I'm patting him down, I lifted up both pant legs, and I saw the mark.

Ken Armstrong

What'd you think when you saw the mark?

Stacy Galbraith

He's the guy. He needed to be in handcuffs. He was very surprised. He went almost blue.

Robyn Semien

She arrested him. Galbraith says it's the most satisfying case she ever worked on.

When the police searched the house, they found shoelaces and other bindings, lock-picking tools, a gun, the pink Sony camera, and, stowed away in the back of an amplifier, underwear he'd collected from his victims. Also, computers, hard drives, thumb drives, media cards, which produced hundreds of images, photos of victims.

Detective Galbraith went through them all. There are pictures of women from the towns in Colorado and--

Stacy Galbraith

A picture of another woman with a Washington driver's license on her chest that was gagged and bound.

Robyn Semien

It was Marie.

Stacy Galbraith

I'm thinking, thank God. I don't have just an unknown victim here that I may never know who she is. I know who this is. Well, I mean, I'm thinking he probably did that as a form of intimidation to her-- I know who you are. I'll have your name and your address. But it helped us, actually.

Robyn Semien

Detective Galbraith contacted the Lynnwood PD hoping to wrap up their case. She had the case file faxed to her. But what she remembers is the cover page of that fax, which read "false reporting."

Stacy Galbraith

My heart sunk, and I was shocked. I was like, oh, cussword, because I knew that was wrong.

Robyn Semien

After police filed their false reporting charge against Marie, Marc O'Leary went on to rape at least four other women-- the three women in Colorado plus the woman he raped in the Seattle suburb near Marie. He pleaded guilty to five rapes and over 20 other felonies. He was sentenced to over 300 years in prison.

In a post-sentencing interview with police, he admitted stalking victims over time, sometimes breaking and entering in the weeks before an attack to plan and make sure a woman was living by herself and didn't have a dog. He also said he knew police departments weren't great at talking to one another. So he planned his attacks, deliberately, in different cities.

Ken Armstrong

In March, 2011, two years after Marie took a plea deal for filing a false police report, she got a visit from the head of the Lynnwood PD's criminal investigations division, Commander Steve Rider.

Steve Rider

We were invited in, told Marie who we were.

Marie

They asked if I had somewhere quiet they could talk to me.

Steve Rider

And I just remember not knowing what I'm going to say. As much as I thought about this moment, I don't know how to say this. I don't even remember the words I used.

Marie

They said they found the guy. They have this little piece of evidence. They said that they had found a picture. And the picture they found was of my ID. And I just broke down. They paid me back the $500 and told me that they were going to get my record expunged.

Steve Rider

She just looked stunned, and we were stunned. And it was hard.

Marie

I didn't really say much after that. I just-- I didn't really have much to say after they told me that. They were just like, we're sorry. We're deeply sorry, you know, about what had happened to you. But it didn't mean much to me at all.

Ken Armstrong

Sergeant Jeffrey Mason, the lead detective in the case, hadn't thought about Marie's case in years. He was sure she'd lied, so he just moved on. And then he got a phone call telling him that a serial rapist had been arrested in Colorado, that Marie had been raped by this man, that Marie had been telling the truth.

Jeffrey Mason

Yeah, I was-- I was driving to my office. It's one of those times that you're not going to forget. It was so shocking that this has been the one thing where I seriously step back and question if I should continue doing what I'm doing.

Ken Armstrong

Marie requested a personal apology from Mason, and she got one in the same police station where two and a half years before she had been interrogated as a criminal suspect instead of treated as a rape victim. Marie says he seemed sincere and ashamed. He rubbed his head. He looked like a lost little puppy, is how she puts it.

And then there were Shannon and Peggy, the two adults who mattered the most to Marie as a teenager. They are both still in her life today. This is Shannon.

Shannon

It was very complicated. Knowing they'd caught him, at the same moment knowing that it had actually happened, that she was actually raped. And nobody believed her, especially the people in her life that had been supporting her and had been taking care of her and trying to mentor her and help her. And we didn't believe her.

And so I told her that I didn't want to say I was sorry over the phone, that I wanted to do it in person. So she came up. And we went for a walk. And I just took her shoulders, and I said, I want to look in your eyes and tell you from the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry I doubted you and I didn't believe you and we didn't support you. And she said that was OK, gave me a big hug. And I was just so shocked that she would be willing to forgive me for that because it was such a huge thing. And it went on for so long.

Peggy

The worst, horrible part of this whole thing for me is that I did talk to the police. And I regret that now.

Robyn Semien

Of course, this is Peggy. Shannon and Peggy have thought a lot about what happened and their role in it. They doubted Marie because of something so normal and human. They trusted their intuition about someone they knew really well. It's hard not to do that. They had a gut feeling that was wrong but felt utterly true.

But trauma works in complicated ways. You can't tell if someone was raped by how they're acting. They can be subdued and detached, but they can also be hyper and laughing. They can go back and forth. Sometimes, they tell no one what happened. Sometimes, they tell a lot of people. Sometimes, they're not sure if the assault actually happened.

At this point, Peggy knows that. But even now, she can't shake the feeling she had that led her to call police in the first place.

Peggy

Obviously, wish I hadn't. But on the other hand, there was all these other things, you know? I mean, the police and the way that Marie was acting. I mean, she on some level needs to take responsibility for that, too. I'm sorry, but that's true. And--

Robyn Semien

What do you mean?

Peggy

She needs to realize at some point, and I think she does now, that-- OK, I hate to say this. But you know, I mean-- OK, now this is going to sound really bad, like I'm blaming the victim. But some of the way that she was acting was part of the reason why it had the outcome that it did. And I am not the only person that didn't believe her.

Robyn Semien

But also, it sounds like everyone who was doubting her didn't have much information about the way that rape trauma can function. And so is this about the way that she acted?

Peggy

Well, it shouldn't be about the way that she acted. But, unfortunately, the reality is that that did influence-- and it sounds really harsh for me to say that. It's not her fault because I think it's totally a product of what she went through. But on the other hand-- oh, God. I don't know.

Robyn Semien

What she does know is that she never expected her feelings to derail an entire police investigation. She's mad police let that happen.

Ken Armstrong

Detective Mason takes full responsibility for what happened. Commander Rider, Mason's boss, head of the criminal investigations division, calls Marie's case, quote, "a major failing," one his department thinks of often. He says the detectives should never have given Peggy's call the weight they did.

The Lynnwood Police Department's own internal review of the case said the same. The report said the call, quote, "caused the detectives to change their focus towards investigating the victim for false reporting." No one was disciplined in the case. Marie sued Lynnwood and its police officers and wound up settling for $150,000. She also sued the Project Ladder managers and the nonprofit that oversaw Project Ladder, Cocoon House.

Cocoon House issued a statement at the time saying, quote, "Our hearts go out to Marie and her family. We strongly believe that Cocoon House and its employees acted appropriately on behalf of the client," the client meaning Marie. Cocoon House settled the lawsuit.

Marie says her conclusion and her advice to any woman who wants to report a sexual assault-- bring proof.

Marie

I just think that all of the facts and everything needs to be laid out so that they can't go back and find something, you know, that you didn't tell them.

Robyn Semien

I know, but you're not on trial.

Marie

Oh, I know. Right. I'm not really sure how to answer that. It just seems like that's how everybody is. Really sucks that you have to be on trial after you go through something so traumatic like that. But that's just how it is and how people think. And that's what happened to me.

Credits

Ira Glass

This story was put together by Ken Armstrong and Robyn Semien. Robyn is a producer on our program. Ken is an investigative reporter for The Marshall Project. A print version of the story, a collaboration between The Marshall Project and ProPublica, was published in December. You can read that online at themarshallproject.org or propublica.org. That version of the story was reported and written by Ken and ProPublica's T. Christian Miller, who also contributed to the radio version of the story.

[MUSIC - AMY BLACK, "SHADOW OF DOUBT"]

Well, our program was produced today by Brian Reed, Robyn Semien with Zoe Chace, Sean Cole, Neil Drumming, Stephanie Foo, Chana Joffe-Walt, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Alissa Shipp, Lilly Sullivan, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Brian Reed. Our editor's Joel Lovell. Julie Snyder's our editorial consultant. Our technical director is Matt Tierney. Production help from Lyra Smith. Seth Lind is our operations director. Emily Condon's our production manager. Elise Bergerson's our business operations manager. Elna Baker scouts stories for our program. Kimberly Henderson is our office coordinator. Research help from Christopher Swetala. Music help Damien Gray, from Geddis.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. You know, I asked him, why is he so beloved? Is it because he's so great at his job? Or is he just so good-looking.

Stacy Galbraith

Crap. It could be either one, really.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

[MUSIC - ANNE WEISS, "SHADOW OF DOUBT"]

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