Meridith Sopher on Good Morning America and Nightline

Meridith Sopher, a Supervising Attorney in the Manhattan office of the Juvenile Rights Practice, appeared on Good Morning America to discuss the case of the 8-year-old Arizona boy who confessed to police that he shot his father and his father's friend while the child was being interviewed as a witnesses in the double homicide. No attorney or relative was present during the police interview with the child. The GMA segment was aired on Nightline.


DATE: 11/19/2008
TIME: 07:00 - 08:00
STATION: ABC(---) (---)
LOCATION: National
PROGRAM: Good Morning America

DIANE SAWYER, co-host:

But Chris is here now, because we have all been talking about this story of the eight-year-old boy accused of double-murder, including his father. And you have had a closer look at the interrogation on the videotape. Everybody is saying, ‘Could this be? How did this happen?’

CHRIS CUOMO reporting:

The allegation is so wild, and it gets more incredible when you look at these interrogation tapes. Police interrogations are always tricky territory. The line between getting the truth and intimidating the subject can be a very fine one. Now, factor in that the subject is an eight-year-old boy, and someone who was brought in as a witness, not a suspect. Now, you have a real potential legal tangle.

Unidentified woman (Interrogator): Can we make a promise to each other that we’re only going to tell the truth?

CUOMO: Listen to the boy’s calm account of the crime on this new interrogation video.

BOY (Suspect): So then, I went inside, and I saw my dad upstairs. I saw a bunch of blood, like, a puddle of blood around his head.

Unidentified woman (Interrogator): Did you go anywhere else in the house?

BOY: No. I went upstairs and I saw him. And then, I cried again--I was laying down, just crying.

CUOMO: Then, a confession. The boy, just eight years old, tells police he killed his own father and his friend, using a rifle his father taught him how to shoot.

BOY: I went upstairs, and then I saw my dad, and then, I got the gun, and then I fired it at my dad. He was on the ground, and then I reloaded it--

CUOMO: When police first started questioning him, the boy denied any involvement, explaining to the officer that the neighbors may be to blame.

Unidentified woman (Interrogator): Who do would you think might have done that?

BOY: I don’t know. Someone bad, though. There’s some people down the street that are pretty, pretty bad people. Always smoking and driving pretty fast down the road in a blue car.

CUOMO: But when police pressed the boy, his story begins to change.

Unidentified woman (Interrogator): When you shoot a gun, some of the powder comes off of it and comes onto clothes. Were any guns shot yesterday?

BOY: I don’t know. Maybe they shot it in the house, and I was wearing the same clothes, and maybe it got on my clothes. Because those guys could have shot it in the house and made some smoke, and I could’ve walked into it.

Unidentified woman (Interrogator): So, we wouldn’t find a whole bunch on your clothes yesterday?

BOY: I don’t know. But I wasn’t shooting any guns.

Unidentified woman (Interrogator): If you shot a gun yesterday, it would be important that you told us that you shot the gun, because we’re going to find out. So--

BOY: I think I might have shot the gun.

CUOMO: About 40 minutes into the questioning, the boy makes a sharp turn and confesses.

Unidentified woman (Interrogator): How many times do you think you fired the gun?

BOY: I think twice.

Unidentified woman (Interrogator): How many times did that gun shoot Tim?

BOY: I think twice. I think um--I think I shot my dad because he was suffering, I think. I think I thought he was suffering.

Unidentified woman (Interrogator): OK.

BOY: So, I might have shot him.

Unidentified woman (Interrogator): OK. That makes sense.

BOY: I didn’t want him to suffer.

CUOMO: Juvenile defenders worry that the boy was coerced into changing his story, and question whether the confession will hold up in court.

Ms. MERIDITH SOPHIER (Legal Aid Society, Juvenile Practice) (as identified on screen): He should not have been questioned without an adult being here there. I think as the interview progresses, there are clearly points at which they should have stopped it and gotten him an attorney.

CUOMO: And, the once calm boy does eventually give in.

Unidentified woman (Interrogator): Did you shoot your dad?

BOY: I think so.

Unidentified woman (Interrogator): Did you shoot him because you were mad at him? Do you think so? How often do you get in trouble?

BOY: Most of the time.

Unidentified woman (Interrogator): Do you get in trouble a lot? For what kinds of stuff, honey?

BOY: Lying.

Unidentified woman (Interrogator): For lying? OK. But you told the truth right now, didn’t you? That’s a good kid. You know that?

CUOMO: This is difficult to watch. These are always difficult. With adults, they can be coercive. But they brought this kid in as a witness, what does that do for them? Legally, it means they don’t need a lawyer.

SAWYER: Let me ask you something. I thought, with children, because of suggestibility problems, you always had to have an expert there. You had to have a kind of counselor there, if not a lawyer.

CUOMO: When you are questioning them about their role in a crime. He was brought in as a witness, which gave him some protective--but it may have been a strategy.

SAWYER: Well, isn’t that a little--

CUOMO: But that’s the law. But what’s disturbing here is he starts saying, ‘I think I might have. I think I might have.’ Now, experts will tell you, that’s what interrogations usually--that’s what happens when someone’s trying to please the interrogator, as an adult. Imagine being a kid, saying that ‘You’re OK now. It’s OK, tell us that you shot your shot your daddy,’ to an eight-year-old kid. It really makes you think whether or not they’re going to be able to use this anywhere.

SAWYER: Well, we want to know what everybody at home thinks, of course. is the place to weigh in.