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Mind-Reading Technology Tests Subject's Guilt

ByABC News via logo
March 9, 2004, 8:57 AM

March 9 -- Now it may be impossible for even the best liars to conceal their crimes.

The latest technology in forensic science uses details known only to investigators and the criminal to prove a suspect's guilt or innocence. Developed by Harvard-trained Lawrence Farwell, brain fingerprinting uses brainwaves to measure what Farwell calls the "a-ha" of recognition.

Traditional lie detectors rely on reading emotional reactions such as sweating or heart rate as a suspect is asked questions. The problem is that well-practiced liars can control these reactions before the polygraph has a chance to detect them.

That's not a possibility in a brain fingerprint test, says Farwell, chief scientist and founder of the Seattle, Washington-based Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories.

Identifying A-ha in the Brain

During the test, the suspect wears a headband equipped with sensors to measure activity in response to recognition of a word or image relating to the crime in question. When the brain recognizes a word or picture, it releases an involuntary wave that Farwell calls a P 300/MERMER (memory and encoding related multifaceted electroencephalographic response). That's used to determine whether suspects were ever at the scene of the crime.

"People remember the very major events in their life, even a serial killer," says Farwell. "That tends to have a very solid record in the brain."

The technology may sound like science fiction, but it has been tested by the FBI and used as evidence in U.S. courts.

According to Farwell and his brain wave results, accused killer Terry Harrington didn't have the details of the 1978 murder he was convicted of stored in his brain. An Iowa judge allowed the new technology into evidence in Herrington's appeal in 2003 and now he's a free man.

In Missouri, J.B. Grinder confessed and was sentenced to life in 1998 after Farwell's test revealed he did have special knowledge of the 1984 rape-murder of which he was accused.