Despite the fact that a Toronto man seen malingering outside Henry Morgentaler’s former Harbord Street abortuary shortly before it was firebombed in May 1992 was recently charged in connection with the murders of both of his parents, Toronto police investigators say they have no intention of re-questioning him about the bombing.
“He was cleared 100 per cent,” John Boyce, the lead investigator in the abortuary bombing, said of 44-year-old David Patten. Abortuary staff photographed a man, later identified as Patten, loitering outside the facility a week or two before the bombing. He was questioned and underwent a lie detector test, which Boyce said Patten passed with flying colours.
Boyce said lie detector tests are administered in “certain circumstances” where situations warrant them.
Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition, is calling for police to re-interview Patten about the bombing, in light of the murders.
Bryce Evans, a Toronto police homicide investigator working on the murder charges against Patten, said it is his understanding the supposed reason Patten was outside the abortuary was that he was distraught over the fact a girlfriend of his had allegedly undergone an abortion at the site.
However, David Packer, a former Toronto police officer who as a private citizen has been investigating the bombing for Campaign Life Coalition, said never in his many years with the police had he heard of anyone being administered a lie detector test. “If you’re a psychopath, you can pass with flying colours, because you don’t believe you did it. It seems kind of like pseudo-science to me.”
Hughes said it is his understanding that an accurate polygraph test can’t be administered to someone who is deranged. “The thing would be flawed,” he said.
Courts in most jurisdictions doubt the reliability of lie detector tests and refuse to admit the results of them as evidence. Some jurisdictions permit the results to be presented if both the prosecutor and the defendant agree to it.
The theory underlying lie detectors is that lying is inherently stressful, and this stress can be recorded on a polygraph machine. The machine simultaneously records breathing, pulse and galvanic skin response. If the greatest biologic responses are seen as lining up with the times that key questions were asked of the subject, stress is presumed, and along with it, that the stress indicates a lie.
However, critics suggest that many subjects can conceal stress even when they are aware that they are lying, and that it is difficult to ascertain whether the stress has been created by a lie or by the test itself.
Doug Williams, a former detective sergeant and licensed polygraph expert with the Oklahoma City police department, has administered more than 6,000 polygraph exams. He says the polygraph is “a sick joke,” that is not capable of detecting truth or deception, and that it can in fact be beaten rather easily.
On the 60 Minutes television news program, Williams hired three polygraphers to test people regarding crimes that never happened, and all three determined that at least some of their innocent subjects were lying. Williams in turn took the test, lied about everything he was asked, and passed easily.
Aside from the allegations of murder, there have been other suggestions that Patten was not well mentally. Neighbours of his said Patten exhibited strange behaviour and recently shaved his head. One man recounted how Patten was seen hands and knees down on his lawn, staring at one spot for about 10 minutes, then taking off his shirt and staring some more. “He acts really strange,” said the neighbour.
Packer said Patten must have been known to police for them to identify him from the photo taken by abortuary staff. Packer also told The Interim that his investigation turned up evidence that Patten – who has no connection to the pro-life movement – applied for a British passport right around the time he was questioned in relation to the bombing.
“I thought it odd that the police had just contacted this guy and here he was, trying to get out of the country.”
Packer’s eyebrows were raised yet again when he learned through the news that Patten had been charged after his parents were brutally murdered on May 14. Eighty-year-old Manny Patten and his 74-year-old wife Claire were beaten to death with a shovel. “It seemed to me too much of a coincidence that this chap would have also been out back of Morgentaler’s,” he said.
He expressed no surprise that Toronto police are not eager to move further on the abortuary bombing case, in keeping with their relatively unaggressive approach to solving it from the start. He also said he has been puzzled by the assignment of Detective Boyce to lead the investigation. Although the bombing was one of the most prominent crimes to take place in Toronto in 1992, a more experienced investigator was not bestowed with the task.
Packer is advising the pro-life movement to keep a close eye on the upcoming trial of Patten, which may well reveal some of the motives behind the alleged killing of his parents. The evidence may also shed light on Patten’s relationship to the abortuary. “It will be a fascinating trial,” he said.