There’s an interesting movie on Netflix right now, and it’s based on true events. In New York’s Central Park, in 1989, a 28 year old woman was brutally raped and beaten. Shortly after, five boys confessed and were convicted. The boys were treated inhumanely and ended up serving up to 13 years in prison. They were exonerated based on DNA evidence and a confession from the real serial rapist. The five boys had confessed because they had been coerced by the police. Certainly, these boys were coerced by the use of violence. However, this story and many others like it led to some very interesting research.

Researchers wanted to understand why people have gone to jail for false confessions. They found that memories can be easily manipulated. In as little as 3 hours a person can be convinced they’ve committed a crime that never even occurred. They were able to convince 70% of their participants that they were guilty of a fake crime. The participants not only confessed, but also described very detailed experiences that never happened.This research also showed that the participants internalized the stories that they were being told by the researchers (investigators).

In civil litigation, the act of preparing for a trial creates a considerable amount of interference with a person’s memory. Witnesses are asked to make witness statements, and usually a fair amount of time has elapsed since the original events in question. Lawyers, not the witnesses, usually write these witness statements. And therefore, the lawyers are very conscious of what they need the witnesses to state in order to properly frame their case. These same witness statements are created after the witnesses’ memories have been “refreshed” by reading various documents: statements of the case; various other material; and documents that the witnesses either didn’t see at the time or that only came into existence after the original events that were witnessed. The witness statements will most likely be edited many times over before being finalized. Finally, many months after initially talking to the witnesses they will be asked to re-read their statements before submitting them as evidence in court. The real reason for this process is to make concrete in the minds of the witnesses the information that was sworn to in their own statements regardless of whether they are true or false, and to cause the witnesses’s memories of the events to be based on these witness statements instead of on the original experiences of the events.

Witnesses often have a stake in a particular version of the original events. This is obvious where the witness has a tie of loyalty or allegiance to one party in the case. Such allegiances are easily created just by the process of preparing a witness statement and then going to court to give evidence for one side. It’s usually nothing malevolent on the behalf of the witness, generally the witness has a desire to assist the party who called the witness or that party’s lawyers, as well as a desire to leave a good impression in the court proceedings. However, the lawyers know exactly what they are doing.

With all that being said, let’s get to the crux of the matter. Did the OPFFA’s lawyer, Rahool Agarwal, implant false memories, ideas, or assertions into the minds of the witnesses when he interviewed them and subsequently wrote their witness statements. Keep in mind, of the dozen or so witness statements submitted to court only a handful are from actual widows who have first-hand knowledge of these events. That’s a handful of witness statements out of thousands of claims.

You be the judge. The following are a few examples taken from the Affidavit of Ann Bryant, from her own handwritten notes which chronicle Rahool Agarwal’s (OPFFA’s lawyer) questions that were posed to the witnesses as they were interviewed in their homes. Imagine the stress and confusion these elderly widows must have been experiencing as they were subjected to questions from multiple members of the OPFFA sitting before them as well as lawyers and other officials simultaneously asking questions over the phone via conference call. Could these widows have been thinking “will I have to return some of my award?”, “do I owe more money to the OPFFA?”. What a horrible experience it must have been for them, while at the same time their minds were probably very malleable to the suggestions of Mr.Agarwal.

Rahool Agarwal: “appears you weren’t out of funds, in some cases people donated double the amount or more. Better that you weren’t”

Rahool Agarwal: ” Colin & Paul had a pattern of directing money to themselves”

Rahool Agarwal: ” Lay low with the media,there may be benefits later because Colin and Paul had their supporters speak with the media. Could expose the family unnecessarily.

Rahool Agarwal: ” Only Colin and Paul have the information because they were operating the process for 10 years in secret.”

Rahool Agarwal: ” Appears the police want us to do the ground work. We will provide information to the police. The police have discretion and we have to trust them, they may want all information possible.”

Rahool Agarwal: ” I understand speaking with a lawyer is not fun. It’s a very challenging process. Your part speaks¬† ¬†volumes, many won’t have that strength of character. We want to hold them accountable and support the OPP, sounds like there could be support for criminal charges.”

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