Research and Investigation – Part 3

More Piles of Paper

Once I had the full transcript of Steve’s second trial, I read through it at least a dozen times, made notes, and tried to make sense of some of it; but, after a while, all the statements blended together. I had read them so many times that I often wasn’t sure where to look in the transcripts when I needed to find a particular comment. I decided it would be better to digitize the records, then I could search the files electronically, and find specific details more quickly.

It was quite a chore. The transcript was 1,238 pages. I had a scanner with a page feeder, but the pages kept getting stuck and crumpled, so I ended up doing each page individually. For each page, I had to lift the lid of the scanner, slide a page of transcript in, align it on the glass window, hit the scan button, wait for it to finish, then do another page. Each nine or ten pages, I had to save the images that the scanner had collected, naming them something coherent that would be sorted numerically (like “2nd_Trial_2006-08-14_page_0001.jpg”), changing the number for each new image. Once that was done, I used Adobe Acrobat to save groups of these images, in the correct order, as PDF files. Then, finally, I had Acrobat run OCR (optical character recognition) on the PDF files, converting the images to text, which made each document searchable. I also then created separate PDF’s for each individual witness. It took weeks, but it has saved me many hours of frustration since. In Aggravated, any time I use quotes from the trial, they are taken directly from the trial transcript.

I began finding things in the transcript that raised a number of questions for me, but I still had nothing to compare them to. The comments from the trial were all I could use to try to establish truth. Steve’s story differed from Hanna’s story, of course, so I had to pick a single viewpoint. Since I believed Steve, I initially spent much of my time looking for flaws in Hanna’s story. This was intensely frustrating because it’s impossible to determine the truth of something if you don’t have a frame of reference for it. Even if I had understood the legal mechanics of trials at that point, I still had nothing to judge the truth by. The testimony was just someone’s words, and — as you will see when you read the book — much of it wasn’t tied to specific dates. It also came with no forensic evidence, no sex selfies, no damning tape recordings, and no actual eyewitnesses. With no forensic data to back Hanna’s statements up, her words held no measurement value on a truth scale. Steve either did the things she claimed or he didn’t, but how could I prove it one way or the other? It took me a long time, several years, before I developed a method that allowed me to break Hanna’s statements down into the lies they are; but I needed something else before that could happen.

The transcript for Trial #2 gave me one set of documents in which all the participants made their statements under oath, swearing that everything they said would be the truth. If they lied during the trial (or in any other trial or on any legal document) they would be guilty of perjury. Was that single document enough, though? No, it wasn’t. Can you guess what my next step was? That’s the subject of the next post.

Have you ever had to determine the truth of something by examining documents? How would you have handled my situation? Tell me below.

Michael Sirois

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