Defense tries to prove confession was coerced

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 28, 1999

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / July 28, 1999

EDGARD – In what was supposed to be the last day of a pre-trial motion to throw out alleged serial killer Daniel J. Blank’s confession, the defenseput three psychologists on the witness stand to try and prove that Blank had been coerced by police into making his 12-hour confession.

Blank is accused of killing six people in Ascension, St. John and St. Jamesparishes. He will go on trial for the Ascension Parish murders on Aug. 16.Before he’s tried in St. John Parish, defense attorneys want his confessionthrown out.

First to testify was Dr. Milton Rhea, a psychologist who administered anIQ test to Blank. According to Rhea’s findings, Blank has a developmentaldisorder and might have suffered a head trauma, but he could not be more specific than that.

Dr. Ronald A. Goebel was next up on the stand. A neuro-psychologist,Goebel gave Blank a battery of exams that tested Blank’s hand-eye coordination, memory, cognition, IQ and reading ability. During the testingGoebel interviewed Blank and found out he was involved in a bicycle accident when he was 12 years old. Blank was hit by a car and thrown 20feet and collapsed into unconsciousness for an undetermined amount of time, the doctor said. Goebel does not believe this accident explainsBlank’s behavior.

He said he discovered that before the accident Blank had been put in a special education class but did not do well. He was always getting intofights, was a bad student and was suspended from school at 10 years old.

He has always had difficulty with authority and was arrested for the first time when was 14 years old and sent to reform school, the doctor testified.

The result of Goebel’s testing was, in the doctor’s words, “not a normally functioning brain.” He added, “Mr. Blank has a mild range of dysfunction ofthe brain.”Also, Goebel said he discovered Blank reads at a third grade level and is a functional illiterate with an IQ in the mid-80’s.

Goebel also said that in his opinion, Blank is a person who is easily swayed or intimidated by others.

On cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney George Ann Graugnard questioned the validity of Goebel’s results. Under questioning, Goebel didadmit that Blank is capable of paying attention and concentrating.

He also admitted that he was not present when Blank was given the tests, but Goebel claims this does not invalidate the test results.

When Graugnard asked if Goebel had confirmed the accident, Goebel replied, “Not to my knowledge. We couldn’t find any record of theaccident.”Goebel said the bottom line is that Blank is functionally illiterate with brain dysfunction, not brain damage, and he said he could not say for sure if Blank could really understand the Miranda rights.

Defense attorney Harold van Dyke than recalled Detective Mike Tomey of the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office. Tomey was one of the detectivesthat had arrested Blank in Oalaska, Texas.

Under tense and testy questioning, van Dyke tried to show that Tomey and his partner did not have probable cause to talk to Blank.

“He was a suspect,” replied Tomey.

Van Dyke than asked Tomey if he had read Blank his rights.

Tomey said, “Anybody I interview will get the Miranda rights.””Well you didn’t mirandize him at the mechanic shop or in the car,” Van Dyke said.

“No, but I hadn’t spoken to him yet. He was free to leave any time beforewe finally arrested him,” Tomey replied.

Finally, Dr. Mark Vigen took the stand. Vigen, a clinical psychologist andexpert on interrogation techniques, went through most of the 12-hour interrogation and pointed out areas in which the detectives had used certain techniques to intimidate Blank and make him want to confess. Hesaid the detectives “minimized” the action of his deeds, telling Blank that people make mistakes, thus making it possible for him to tell them about it under the assumption that the penalty would be less than if he didn’t confess.

According to Vigen, the police also tried to make Blank feel like he was demented and not sane so that he wouldn’t feel so bad about confessing.

Because of these tactics, Vigen came to three conclusions about the Blank confession: The police talked at a higher more complex level than Blank, confusing him.

Blank believed that he was under arrest and in custody.

Blank was manipulated by the police.

Before Graugnard could cross-examine Vigen, Judge Snowdy adjourned the proceedings due to the lateness of the hour. Because of several timeconstraints, Snowdy ordered the hearing to continue on Aug. 7 at theEdgard courthouse.

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