Dr. Carl Stillman
I am a neurologist, not a writer, so I may not be very good at telling this story. But it is a story I feel must be told.
But be warned, you may not like it.
I could start the story at many different places, because for me, it was like a journey, and like all journeys, any point along the route could be considered the beginning of what was is to follow. But I will skip over the background events and begin when Jacob F. Neeman walked into my office.
See there, I'm already getting the story our of sequence. I want to get this story right, so I should have started by telling you more about myself. Let's start with my name. I am Dr. Alfred Sussman, professor of neurology. I am employed by a university that you would undoubtedly—if I was to name it—have heard of, but I suspect you wouldn't think of it as one of the nation's top schools.
Although my title at this university is professor, I am not a teacher. Instead, I do research, and at the time this story begins, I was researching how human memory works by looking at how certain drugs affect learning and retention of learning in lab rats.
I must pause here to tell you that human memory is not what you think it is. You think that when you have an experience, the memory of that experience gets stored somewhere in your brain. The concept everybody has in their minds is that memory works more or less the same way as how data gets stored in the memory banks of a computer. Data is placed somewhere in the brain, and that's where it stays until the time comes to go there and retrieve it. But that's not at all how memory works. More about that later (exactly how human memory works is relevant to this story).
One more thing about memory before I go on: the memory process is selective; that is, not all experiences are stored. If that were not true, our brains would be quickly filled with images of the countless pointless things we encounter every day, visual images of the sky, the weather, the cracks in the sidewalk, every leaf on every tree—in other words, the zillion different sights and smells and sounds we encounter in a normal day.
No, our brains are smarter than that, smart enough to sort out what's important enough to remember and what isn't.
But I'm taking too long to get to the real story, aren't I? I told you I wouldn't be very good at this story telling thing.
All right, let me get right to the part that could be called the actual beginning. I guess it was when Jacob F. Neeman, having walked unannounced into my office, told me he was a lawyer and that he was representing Oren Ackerman. Now at that time, everybody in our town knew who Oren Ackerman was, because less than a year ago, he had been sent to prison for sexually molesting a nine-year-old girl. I had been too busy with my work to pay much attention to the trial, but the local news media had covered it on a daily basis.
So, you might ask, what was Neeman, a lawyer representing a child molester, doing in my office? I was asking myself the same thing: why would a lawyer representing an infamous child predator be coming to see a neurological researcher that knew almost nothing about his case?
In the moment, I was actually a little relieved to hear what he was saying, because I assumed it meant he was in the wrong office, and I wouldn't have to interact with him any longer than it would take to direct him to where he wanted to go. You see, I normally don't associate very much with other people, not even with my peers. My peers, the other professors who are just down the hall (in much bigger offices than mine) are all involved with teaching their classes. And besides, they are all married, and that means all they want to talk about is spouses and kids and mortgages. I'm the only professor in my department that is not married. Besides that, I'm way too involved in my research work to have any time for chit-chat.
However, lawyer Neeman was not in the wrong office; he really was there to see me. Turns out, he had read the paper I published last year (my only published paper). It was a report of a study I'd done using a drug that blocked the formation of new memories in lab rats that had learned how to run a maze. Unexpectedly, the drug temporarily erased their memory of the maze. That stopped me cold. Every neurologist knows new neuronal connections are formed when new learning takes place, but why would a drug that is well known to only block new learning, somehow erase old learning? It was like my data was lying to me.
But after thinking about it for a long time, what I proposed in my published paper was that the drug didn't actually erase the memory; it was somehow keeping the memory from being accessed. That could only mean one thing: the brain must "rebuild" memories every time they are accessed. It was a startling finding.
But after my paper got published in an important neurology journal, my suppositions about how memories are accessed didn't go over so well in the tight little world of neurology. In letters to the journal's editor, they asked how an obscure researcher in a not-so-famous university could be be so bold as to even dare suggest the entire field of neurology had long been wrong about something as basic as how human memory retrieval works? They questioned my research. They said my controls must have been poor, and they predicted that my results could not be replicated. As a result, at the time lawyer Neeman walked into my office, I had been spending all of my time redoing that study and re-analyzing my results.
When he told me he wanted me to take the stand as a memory expert in a possible retrial of Mr. Ackerman, I immediately told him I was sorry, but I was very involved in a important series of lab studies and could not possibly take any time out.
But he pleaded with me to at least hear him out. He said he was sure that as a memory expert, I would find the case interesting. I glanced up at the clock and realized it was getting late in the afternoon. My lab assistants would already be putting the rats back in their cages. So, if his case really did have something to do with memory, why not give the fellow a few minutes to tell me about it? It might be interesting, even though I knew I wasn't going to get involved.
He sat down across the desk from me and took out Mr. Ackerman's case file. Glancing at his papers from time to time, he explained that his client had been convicted of molesting a nine-year old girl, but the conviction had been based on only one piece of evidence, the victim's memory. At the trial, the supposed victim, a 40-year-old woman with a history of depression, claimed to have detailed memories of being sexually molested by Mr. Ackerman thirty years before. Lawyer Neeman said such an old memory should not even have been admitted as evidence, let alone, be the only evidence needed to send a man to prison.
At that point, I felt I had to interrupted the lawyer. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Mr. Neeman, but traumatic experiences like that often do implant indelible memories that are quite vivid, even thirty years later."
He held up the case file. "Yeah, well if it was such a traumatic experience, why did she wait thirty years to bring forward such serious charges against a man who she admitted had been a beloved elementary school PE teacher? He had been at that school for a long time, and nobody else had ever reported him doing anything wrong."
I saw his point but suspected there was more to the story than he was telling me. "Well, if you felt the woman's memory might have been flawed, why didn't you challenge it during the trail?"
That's when Neeman informed me that he had not been Mr. Ackerman's lawyer during the trial. "I actually work for a non-profit agency that reviews criminal trials in which a person might have been wrongfully convicted. We think Mr. Ackerman had poor representation. And besides, there was a kind of witch hunt for child predators going on at that time, and he was as good a culprit as any."
Now I understood why Neeman was so passionate about the case. "So, you are trying to undo what you see as a judicial wrong. I understand that. But I'm still afraid I just can't take the time to get involved."
Neeman leaned across the desk toward me. Believe it or not, he had his hands clasped together as if he was praying. "Please, Dr. Sussman, I'm not asking you to get involved. All I want you to do is take the stand and explain to the court about how human memory works."
I still wasn't going for it. I was having success replicating my original research findings, and I was just about ready to publish a new paper with additional research support for my new theory of how memories are retrieved. This paper would set the world of neurology on its ear. When my research proved I was right, it would make me famous, no matter that the "leading lights" in the field thought. Therefore, I didn't want to get distracted by anything. I told the lawyer that, and he left my office disappointed. Nevertheless, he said he was going to keep me informed about the case, especially if he was able to get a new trial for Mr. Ackerman.
I didn't hear from Neeman for a while, and although I often thought about whether or not memory should be accepted as the primary evidence in a trial, I tried to keep my focus on getting my latest research findings published. I knew I would have to defend my findings against the "old guard" neuroscientists, but what I didn't anticipate was that they had gotten to the leading neuroscience journals to make sure I didn't publish any more of my "heretical" data. I was receiving quick rejections from every journal I sent my research report to. Even the journal that had originally published my findings turned me down. I tried to contact the editor of that journal to ask him why he wouldn't at least publish my data as a follow up to my original article, but he wouldn't take my calls. My emails to him went unanswered.
That was when I got an email from Neeman. He said he had failed to get his client a new trial, but he had managed to get a hearing before the same judge that had overseen the original trial. He once again begged me to get involved. He wanted me to go with him to explain to the judge how dangerously faulty long-term memories can be and how they should not be considered "real" evidence in criminal trials that could result in a person being imprisoned.
I quickly replied to his email, telling him once and for all, I was too busy to get involved.
Neeman must have been sitting at his computer when I sent my email, because soon thereafter, my phone rang. Sure enough, it was him.
"Thanks for responding to my email, Dr. Sussman. I'm sorry you still don't think you have time to get involved. But not to worry, I found another expert witness, Dr. Charles Mason. I managed to scrap up enough money to fly him in for the day. I think as the editor of a well-known neuroscience journal, his opinions might carry a lot weight with the judge. Hey, do you know him, this Dr. Mason guy?"
Of course I knew Dr. Charles Mason. He was the editor of the journal that had published my original research paper, the same person who was now refusing to publish my follow-up paper. Dr. Mason was coming here, to this town? I began to suspect it might be a trick Neeman had cooked up to lure me into involvement in his case. Had Neeman somehow found out I had been trying to contact Dr. Mason? It seemed like too much of a coincidence. I said, "Of course I know him. His journal published my research paper. The paper you said you read, remember?"
"Right. That's how I found him. By contacting the journal your paper was in. But I didn't know you knew him personally."
"Actually, I've never met him. We just corresponded regarding the publishing of my paper."
"Well, here's your chance to meet him in person. How about if I set up a lunch for you two after the hearing is over?"
Even if it was a lawyer trick, I couldn't miss the opportunity to meet with Mason to convince him to publish my new research. "Yes, I would be interested in meeting with him."
"Great. I'll email you the information about when and where the hearing will be held. You can meet us there. And if you want to sit in and listen to what is said in the hearing, I'll leave word at the door to let you in."
After Neeman hung up, I tried to think it through. Somehow, no matter how many times I told Neeman I wasn't going to get involved in his case, he had found a way to get me to his hearing. He knew that once I was there, I wouldn't be likely to sit outside the hearing room while inside they were discussing the role of memory as evidence in criminal trials.
The day of the hearing was hot and muggy. I felt uncomfortable as I took the bus downtown, and it took me quite a while to find the address Neeman had emailed me.
When I found the hearing room, there was no guard at the door, so I went right in. Inside, the room turned out to be a regular courtroom, pretty much like you'd see in TV courtroom dramas—wood paneling and formality. There was the judge's high bench, and the two tables down in front where—at least in the TV courtroom scenes—the prosecution and the defense sat. At the back of the room, next to the door I had just entered through, were seats for observers. But there were no observers. In fact, the only person in the room was Neeman. He was sitting at one of the tables down in front, and as soon as I entered the room, he jumped up and came back to shake my hand. "Nobody here yet," he said. "But it won't be long. You want to come sit at the front table with me?" He pointed.
I shook my head. "No, I'll just sit back here where I'm supposed to be. Just an observer."
"Suit yourself," he said. He headed back down to the table where he'd left his briefcase and started going through some papers.
I sat in the very back row, feeling a bit nervous about what I was going to say when I got the chance to meet with Dr. Mason after the hearing was over.
Soon, a nervous-looking, somewhat thin woman in a bright red dress entered, followed by a large woman in a well-worn gray pantsuit. A lawyer? The two women headed for the table opposite Neeman.
For some reason, Neeman didn't even glance at them.
Almost as if he had been waiting for the woman to arrive, the judge entered, followed by a woman who turned out to be the court reporter.
The judge wasn't wearing a judge's robe or anything like that, only a dark suit with a fairly bright blue tie that seemed a bit too jolly in the formality of a quiet wood-paneled courtroom.
Instead of taking his place up on the judge's bench, the judge went straight to the woman in the red dress and shook her hand. "Thank you for coming in this afternoon, Rita. Nice to see you again. I just want to make it clear that this is not like the trial. This is a somewhat informal hearing to help me determine if there needs to be a retrial." He pointed at Neeman. "Mr. Neeman here is representing Mr. Ackerman. He's filed a motion for a retrial. He says he has important new evidence, so I granted him this hearing to see if it warrants an actual retrial. Do you understand?"
The woman remained standing. "I understand," she said, "but it feels like now I'm the one on trial."
"Not at all," said the judge. "Not at all. I will ask you to take the stand to repeat what you said last year at the trial, but you are not to consider yourself on trial in any way. As I said, this is only a hearing."
The woman in the dress abruptly sat down and folded her arms in front of her chest. She didn't seem to be very happy to be in a courtroom again. In fact, she seemed angry.
The woman in the gray pantsuit touched her arm and whispered something to her, but she jerked her arm away. She was frowning and glaring at Neeman.
The judge went up to his place on the high bench. Once he was seated, he pointed at Neeman. "Okay, Mr. Neeman. You may begin."
Neeman stood up. "Thank you, judge. As I stated in my brief, important new information about this case has come to light. I have read the report of the trial, but it would help me understand the case much better if I could just ask the only witness against my client, Ms. Lafferty, a few questions."
The judge looked at the woman. "Would you mind taking the stand again, Rita? I think it would help us put this matter to bed pretty quickly."
"Sure," she said, standing up. "I have nothing to hide."
It's odd, but the way she said those words make me think she did indeed have something to hide. But maybe she was just nervous.
As soon as she was seated in the witness box up next to the judge's high bench, Neeman stood up. But he didn't approach her. "Thank you for coming, Ms. Lafferty. Or can I call you Rita? I notice the judge called you by your first name."
"You can call me anything you want, Mr. Neeman. Let's just get this over with."
Neeman nodded and glanced at the paper he was holding. "Fine, fine. Now as I understand it, Rita, you didn't report your accusations against Mr. Ackerman at the time the incident occurred. Can you tell us why you didn't?"
She shrugged and looked away from him. "I knew it wouldn't do any good. Everybody thought he was such a nice old guy. They wouldn't have believed me."
Neeman scratched his head and again looked at the paper he was holding. "Uh, I'm a bit confused, Ms. Lafferty. You say you didn't report him because everybody thought he was a nice old guy. But according to my calculations, when the incident occurred, thirty years ago, he would have been only thirty-nine years old."
"Well, you know what I mean."
"No, Rita, I don't know what you mean."
"Well, I mean . . . I guess to me . . . I was just a kid, so he looked old to me."
Neeman started to say something, but before he could speak, she added, "Old and smelly. I remember that."
"You remember how he smelled."
"Yes. When he molested me, tried to rape me, I could smell him. I remember that very clearly."
Neeman turned to look at me. He raised his eyebrows, and he had a slight grin on his face.
But I wasn't about to respond to him. I made sure to keep my expression unchanged.
The judge must have noticed Neeman turning to look at me, because he said, "Excuse me for interrupting, Mr. Neeman, but you said you would be bringing an expert witness with you today. Is that man back there your expert witness? If not, this is supposed to be a closed hearing."
The lawyer in the brown suit turned to look at me, almost as if she hadn't even noticed me before that moment.
And Ms. Lafferty was also looking at me. Or, I should say, glaring at me.
Neeman gestured toward me with the paper in his hand. "Your honor, I had planned to bring in Dr. Charles Mason, a leading authority on memory, but he had a family emergency and was not able to make it. I asked Dr. Sussman to come instead. Dr. Sussman is one of this nation's leading researchers on memory processes. I will be referring to some of his research today in my presentation."
The judge pointed at me. "Then why isn't he sitting at the defense table with you?"
"Dr. Sussman prefers to sit back there until it's time for the presentation of his evidence."
The judge shrugged. "Suit yourself."
The presentation of my evidence? I didn't have any evidence to present. What was Neeman up to? I began to suspect he never had even planned to bring in Dr. Mason. That might very well have been his elaborate trick to get me to the hearing. I had half a mind to just get up and walk out, but I decided to stay long enough to see what Neeman was up to.
He turned back to the witness. "Rita, are you now claiming you didn't report the incident because Mr. Ackerman seemed old?"
"That's not what I said, and you know it, Neeman. I said he was old, but the reason I didn't report him was because nobody would have believed me."
"But weren't you worried that if you didn't report it, he might molest you again?"
"I was so traumatized by it, I made my mother immediately pull me out of that awful school. I got to go to a much better school."
Neeman picked up the case file and was hurriedly shuffling through it. "Ms. Lafferty, I can find no mention of that in the case file. You say you immediately left that school after the incident."
"Yes I did. And I wish you would stop referring to it and an 'incident.' He tried to rape me, plain and simple."
"But it is not so simple, is it Rita? I think you should have reported it right away. That way you could have shown people your torn clothes. They'd have to believe you."
"My clothes weren't torn because I was naked."
Neeman looked surprised. Wasn't that information in the case file? "You were naked before he attacked you? How could that be?"
"As I said at the trial, I was in the girl's locker room. Just out of the shower."
"You were in the girl's locker room. And there were no other girls there?"
"And Mr. Ackerman came into that locker room and tried to rape you."
"That's right. He forced me to touch his penis, and then he threw me down on the floor and tried to rape me."
"You remember all that? Clearly? Thirty years after the incident?"
"Yes, as I said at the trial, I can still remember exactly how his penis felt in my hand."
"In your hand."
"He made you hold his penis, and then he threw you down on the floor and tried to rape you."
"Yes. He hurt me. He hurt me bad."
"It seems like if he hurt you that badly, it would be another reason you should have reported it. You would have had bruises, and maybe scratches, to support your story. There might have been DNA evidence."
"Yes, I did have bruises. And scratches from where I fought him."
"So you fought him. But nobody noticed those bruises and scratches?"
"No. I hid them."
"You hid them? Why was that?"
"Well, I was embarrassed. It is a common thing for youthful molestation victims to be embarrassed and afraid of what people might think."
"An interesting phrase, Ms. Lafferty. Sounds almost like something out of a psychology textbook."
She shrugged. "It's the truth, no matter how you want to twist it."
"In fact, it almost sounds like something Dr. Scheibner might have said to you."
Ms. Lafferty seemed stunned. "What?"
"Dr. Scheibner. You know, your hypnotherapist. The so-called doctor that hypnotized you and implanted the false memory in your mind about being molested back when you were nine years old."
Ms. Lafferty stood up. "Dr. Scheibner told you that? It's a lie. And besides, it's a violation of the doctor-patient relationship. I'll sue that bastard for very dime he's got."
The judge seemed as stunned as Ms. Lafferty. "Now wait a minute, Mr. Neeman. If you have evidence that a hypnotist intentionally implanted a false memory in Ms. Lafferty's mind, you need to bring this Dr. Scheibner in to testify."
"I'm pretty sure Dr. Scheibner would not be willing to testify, your honor. It turns out his so-called doctorate is actually a mail-order degree. For a few hundred bucks, you can buy almost any kind of doctorate degree you want from the online degree mills. What you get for your money is a fancy piece of paper you can get framed to hang on your office wall. But I didn't need to talk to this so-called "Doctor" Scheibner to find out what he did to Ms. Lafferty. Planting memories is what Scheibner does." Neeman pulled a colorful tri-fold brochure out of the case file folder and help it up for the judge to see. "It's right here in his brochure. It says Dr. Scheibner is a master hypnotherapist who can 'bring your inner child out of hiding.'" He turned back to Ms. Lafferty. "Now isn't it true that you visited Dr. Scheibner's office a number of times to be hypnotized before you suddenly 'remembered' the so-called molestation incident?"
Ms. Lafferty sat down again. "So what if I did get hypnotized? All he did was help me remember what happened. Anybody who says otherwise is a dirty liar."
"But do you admit that you didn't actually remember Mr. Ackerman attacking you until you were hypnotized?""Of course I did. I may not have remembered the details, but Dr. Scheibner helped bring it all back."
"Details like how your attacker smelled. And how a penis feels in your hand."
"And what made you go to see Scheibner in the first place?"
"Well, I didn't want Ackerman to get away with it. I saw him, and I could tell he thought he'd got away with it."
"You saw him?"
"Yes. That school had a big celebration. Their fifty-year anniversary or some such. I hated that school, but when I heard about it, I was curious. So I went. And there was Ackerman sitting up there on the stage. A fat old man with no hair, all proud and sticking his chest out when they introduced him as the beloved PE teacher that had helped so many kids. What a hero. To me, he looked like a smartass old fart who thought he could get away with anything he felt like. I decided right then and there to get him."
Neeman stared at her for several seconds, letting the silence in the room build, before he softly said, "Get him?"
"Well, get back at him, I mean. For what he did to me. That fat old man ruined my life, and I'm not going to let you save his ass now. He's locked up right where he belongs, and I bet he's getting just what he deserves in there. I've heard about what happens to child predators when they get thrown in prison, and it's not pretty. Whatever happens to him in there, he deserves it. All the men who take advantage of children should be locked up, and they should throw away the key. Every single one of them should all get what Ackerman is getting now. It's what they all deserve. They . . . "
She suddenly seemed to realize how red-faced and loud she was getting. She stopped talking and looked around as if she was trying to find somebody to help her out of this situation. Then she hurriedly jumped up and stepped down out of the witness box. She headed for the exit, followed closely by her lawyer.
The judge called after them: "Uh. Ms. Lafferty, I haven't excused you yet."
She turned back. Yeah? Well you and your lying friend Neeman can go to hell. If you think we women can't defend ourselves, you've got another think coming. And if you dare let that monster Ackerman out of prison, I'll sue you. I'll sue the lot of you. I'm warning you."
After she left, Neeman appealed to the judge to go ahead and grant his request for a new trial based on the new evidence that her so-called memory had actually been implanted by a hypnotist. He again held up the hypnotist's brochure. "Listen, judge, this quack makes his living getting women to 'remember' old childhood grievances. He claims dredging up such past memories and 'bringing them out into the light' will solve all their emotional problems.'"
The judge didn't seem convinced. "Mr. Neeman, you say her memory has been enhanced. That may be, but I can only go with her sworn testimony. She got up on the stand and testified, under oath, that Mr. Ackerman molested her."
"But what about this new evidence, your honor? She said she saw Mr. Ackerman when he was an old man and decided to 'get him.' It's clear she was out to get the man any way she could."
The judge shook his head. "Her attitude doesn't change her original testimony. She got up on the stand and under oath said she was molested. The jury agreed and found Ackerman guilty."
"That's what got me interested in this case in the first place, your honor. Her testimony. It was too pat. Remember, it was only her word against Mr. Ackerman's word. The supposed crime took place thirty years ago, and yet she claimed to remember every detail."
"As I'm sure you know, Mr. Neeman, the state can prosecute an offender up to 30 years after the victim reaches age 18 or up to five years after the victim reports the crime."
"I'm not disputing that, your honor. I'm not even saying nothing happened. But what if Ackerman only walked in on her when she was naked in the girl's locker room, and in the thirty intervening years, she blew it up in her mind to be something a lot worse than it was? With the help of a charlatan hypnotist, that is"
"You have no evidence to support that idea, Mr. Neeman."
At this point, Neeman turned to point at me. "But I do have evidence that old memories are subject to distortion. Dr. Sussman here has been reporting important new research on memory that says memory distortion is a normal process when a very old memory is recalled."
They were both looking at me. Was I supposed to say something?
But no, Neeman quickly turned back to the judge, holding up what he said was a copy of my published research report.
As he handed the report to the judge, it was clear Neeman thought my research supported his case. But in my published paper, I never made the claim that old memories are always distorted. Only that the old memory has to be recreated.
Now I understood why Neeman wanted to get me to the hearing. He wanted to introduce my research into the hearing as "evidence" that people's brains recreate old memories, and therefore, they can become distorted. But if the judge actually bothered to read the report, he would see the research was done with rats. He would probably dismiss it out of hand.
The judge put the research report aside and said he would take it under consideration. He said he would rule on Neeman's request for a new trial within a few days. Then he and the court reporter left the room.
Neeman gathered up his papers and came to me. "Let's go celebrate," he said, grinning.
"Celebrate? All the judge said was that he would take it under consideration."
Neeman still continued to smile happily. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to get this far? Even getting a judge to consider a retrial is a big step forward. And even if he rules against us, we have other avenues now that our new evidence is in the official record. It also gives us a few more days to try to find more evidence. Maybe we can get this hypnotist quack, Scheibner, to fess up. And I'm going out to that school to try to find out more about why she abruptly left after the incident. That's new information that wasn't in the original trial. Maybe something else happened to her at that school."
I told Neeman to go ahead. I didn't feel much like celebrating. I said I needed to think.
He said he would call me later.
He left, and I stayed in the quiet courtroom to think it all through.
I still wasn't much interested in getting involved in his case, but now, after seeing how Ms. Lafferty acted and hearing about how that hypnotist made his money by helping his patients "retrieve" old memories, I was already starting to think about trying to get a grant to do some research with hypnotism and implanted memory. It would be good to take a break from working with rats and work with real humans for a change.
In the end, I didn't even get a chance to apply for such a grant.
And now we get to the part of the story I said you wouldn't like. Looking back at it all, the things that happened after that day are now becoming mushed together in a bewildering sequence of events, one bad thing leading to the next bad thing.
The chain of events started out the next day with what seemed like good news. Neeman called me. "Dr. Sussman, you absolutely will not believe what I found out at that school. Yes, they had a record of a nine-year old girl named Lafferty at the school thirty years ago. And yes, she did leave in the middle of the term without explanation. But get this, Ackerman was not there."
"That's right. He only arrived to be the new PE teacher the next year. It means she made the whole thing up. Or should I say, that phony hypnotist 'helped' her make it all up. Whatda ya think of that?"
I didn't know what to think. How could a man get convicted and sent to prison for a crime that never could have happened? And why would the jury believe one woman's accusation without any proof. And why didn't Ackerman's original lawyer do the same kind of checking at the school that Neeman was doing now?
Neeman interrupted my thoughts. "I've already contacted the judge. He says he needs confirmation from the school that Ackerman was not there at the time, and if he gets it, he will send that evidence along to the review board and get Mr. Ackerman released to a half-way house pending a new hearing. The judge also said if it all turns out to be true, he'll be contacting the prosecutor's office to file perjury charges against Ms. Lafferty."
As I was trying to find a way to reconcile all this new information with regard to how memory works and wondering if it was fair to file charges against a person just because they had been implanted with a false memory, Neeman said he would be back in touch soon and hung up.
My only involvement in the case after that was to appear before some kind of court review board at which Ms. Lafferty was called in to repeat what she had said at the original trail and what I heard her repeat at the hearing. The amazing thing was that even after being presented with the concrete evidence that Ackerman was not at the school during the time she was there, she refused to back down. She accused Neeman of lying. She said the evidence was all made up. Ackerman had tried to rape her in the girl's locker room that day, and if she lived to be a thousand years old, she would never back down from saying it.
I wanted to take the stand and say she shouldn't be prosecuted for perjury because she really did believe it had happened. Once the memory has been implanted, it can never be taken back.
But they wouldn't let me talk about that. All they wanted from me was proof that Ms. Lafferty had stated quite clearly that she was molested by Mr. Ackeman and that she had admitted she was out to "get him."
I told them what they wanted to hear, and all the time I was speaking, Ms. Lafferty was glaring at me with a look of pure hate. I can guarantee you that if looks could kill, I would be quite dead by now. As the hearing came to an end, Ms. Lafferty jumped to her feet and started screaming. She accused me and Neeman of being part of a male plot to get "that dirty pervert Ackerman" out of prison. She even accused the judge of being in on the conspiracy. She swore she would get even with all of us.
And she did.
Shortly after the hearing, she went to the media. With Ackerman released from prison, the case was back in the news. They set up a TV press conference for Ms. Lafferty, and she laid out her "evidence" of a conspiracy between a shyster lawyer named Neeman and some phony professor named Sussman to get their buddy, Ackerman, a convicted child molester, released from prison.
The press went for it. The trial had been a good story the first time around, and now they could go over all the shocking details again. As with the original trial, they didn't ask Ms. Lafferty for proof, they just went with the story.
Mr. Ackerman did get released from prison, but by then he was a completely broken old man. Turns out he had often been beaten in prison, and soon after the word was out that he would be released, he got stabbed in the back and almost died.
Neeman, who had expected to be lauded for getting an innocent man out of prison, had been tainted by the case. Under pressure to resign, he left the foundation he had been working for and moved to another city.
As for me, well I'm still doing research with rats, but I'm now at a different university, and my role is limited to taking care of the rats. Officially, I'm a teaching assistant, but the fact is, I mostly feed the lab rats and clean their cages. I didn't exactly get fired from my university job because of Ms. Lafferty's accusations, but after all the brouhaha in the news about me and Neeman conspiring to get a convicted child molester released from prison, the university just sort of decided to not renew my contract. Needless to say, my research on how long-term memories are rebuilt every time you access them has been totally ignored. No one believes it, so no one has bothered to try to replicate it. In fact, I'm beginning to doubt it myself. Maybe like Ms. Lafferty, I wanted so badly to believe something, my mind made up the data. We will never know what the real truth is.
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