Dr. Larry Farwell - Brain Fingerprinting

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Farwell Brain Fingrprinting Helps to
Catch a Serial Killer and Free an Innocent Man

Dr. Larry Farwell's Brain Fingerprinting Test

Helps to Bring a Serial Killer to Justice

Dr. Larry Farwell Brain
                                      Fingerprinting Test on JB Grinder
                                      Serial Killer

Dr. Farwell conducts a Brain Fingerprinting test on serial killer J. B. Grinder

For 15 years, James B. Grinder was the primary suspect in the brutal murder case of Julie Helton, but there had never been enough evidence to bring him to trial. Miss Helton was reported missing in Macon, MO in January 1984. Three days later her body was found near the railroad tracks in Macon. She had been raped, brutally beaten and stabbed.

During the 15 years after the murder, Grinder had given several different, contradictory accounts of the crime. Some accounts involved his participation and some did not. Some involved participation by several other individuals. Grinder's accounts contradicted both the physical evidence and the statements of an alleged witness.

After spending over 10,000 man-hours investigating the case, Macon County Sheriff Robert Dawson asked Dr. Lawrence Farwell to use Brain Fingerprinting testing to determine scientifically whether or not Grinder was the perpetrator of the crime. Grinder, already serving time in jail on an unrelated case, agreed to participate in the Brain Fingerprinting test. Sheriff Dawson, Chief Deputy Charles Muldoon, and Randy King of the Missouri Highway Patrol provided Dr. Farwell with the specific background information on the case for use in developing the test. Dr. Drew Richardson, then an FBI Supervisory Special Agent, worked with Dr. Farwell to structure the Brain Fingerprnting test.

During the Brain Fingerprinting test, which Dr. Farwell administered in August 1999, Grinder viewed short phrases flashed on a computer screen, some of which were probe stimuli containing specific details of the crime that would be noteworthy only to the perpetrator. These included the murder weapon, the specific method of killing the victim, specific injuries inflicted on the victim by the perpetrators before she was killed, what the perpetrators used to bind the victim’s hands, the place where the body was left, items that the perpetrators left near the crime scene and items that were taken from the victim during the crime.

Computer analysis of the Brain Fingerprinting test found, with a statistical confidence level of 99.9%, that the specific details of the crime were recorded in Grinder’s brain as “information present”, which means that record stored in Grinder’s brain matched the details of Julie Helton ‘s murder.

Following the test results, Grinder faced an almost certain conviction and probable death sentence. Grinder pled guilty to the rape and murder of Julie Helton in exchange for a life sentence without parole.  He is currently serving that sentence. In addition, Grinder  confessed to the  murders of three other young women.

Testing Procedure

Dr. Farwell's Brain Fingerprintng test followed the Brain Fingerprinting Scientific Standards, as specified in Dr. Farwell's peer-reviewed publications and ruled admisible in court. Grinder wore a headband equipped with sensors that measured his brainwave responses to words and phrases, some of which contained relevant information to the crime  that was known only to the perpetrator and investigators.

The Brain Fingerprinting system mathematically analyzes the brain-wave responses and makes a determination of “information present’ or “information absent”. “Information present” means that the probe responses, like the target responses, contain a P300-MERMER indicating that the crime-relevant information is stored in the brain. “Information absent” means that the details of the crime are not stored in the brain. The Brain Fingerprinting system also computes a statistical confidence for the determination of “information present” or “information absent.”

Test Results

Grinder’s brainwave responses to the words and phrases containing details of the rape and murder of Julie Helton clearly contained a P300-MERMER, indicating “information present” which means that the details of this crime were stored in his brain. (As expected, the target responses also elicited a P300-MERMER, and the irrelevant responses did not elicit a P300-MERMER.)

The Brain Fingerprinting test result for J.B. Grinder was “information present,” with a statistical confidence of 99.9%. From this we can conclude with a high degree of confidence that, even though fifteen years had passed since the event, significant details of Julie Helton’s rape and murder are stored in J.B. Grinder’s brain. 

One week after Dr. Farwell's Brain Fingerprinting test on him, Grinder, faced with certain conviction and probable death sentence, pled guilty to the rape and murder of Julie Helton in a plea bargain in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole.   He is now serving that sentence.  He also confessed to the murders of three other young women.

                        Dr. Larry Farwell's Brain Fingerprinting Test on Serial Killer JB Grinder

JB Grinder's Brain Fingerprinting
                                test brain responses Dr. Larry Farwell

Grinder's Brainwave Responses

            Letter from Sheriff Robert Dawson on Dr. Farwell's Brain Fingerprinting test of JB Grinder

                      The Terry Harrington Case

        Farwell Brain Fingerprinting Helps to Free an
ent Man after 24 Years in Prison

Ruled Admissible in Court

                       Dr. Larry
                                                      Farwell Brain
                                                      Terry Harrington

Dr. Larry Farwell Conducts a
Brain Fingerprinting Test on Terry Harrington

Terry Harrington spent over half of his life in prison for murder. Twenty-three years after his conviction, Dr. Lawrence Farwell used Brain Fingerprinting testing to show with a 99.9% statistical confidence level that the record stored in Harrington's brain does not match the crime scene and does match his alibi. The testing showed that significant details of the crime are not stored in his brain. The judge ruled that Brain Fingerprinting is admissible as scientific evidence in court. On February 26, 2003 the Iowa Supreme Court reversed his murder conviction and ordered a new trial. In October 2003, the State of Iowa elected not to re-try Mr. Harrington and released him from prison.

In 1977, Harrington, who was 17 at the time, was arr

ested for the murder of John Schweer, a retired police captain who had been working as a security guard. Court records contain contradictory accounts of the events of the evening of the crime. In the trial, Harrington said that he had been with friends at a concert the evening of the murder. Several witnesses corroborated this alibi. The primary prosecution witness, 16-year old Kevin Hughes, told a different story. He gave a detailed account of Harrington's alleged perpetration of the crime. A year later Harrington was found guilty and sentenced to life without parole, based almost entirely on Hughes' testimony.

Now Brain Fingerprinting technology has made it possible to examine scientifically which sequence of events actually took place, by determining which one is stored in Harrington's brain. Brain Fingerprinting testing determines objectively what information is stored in a person's brain by measuring brain-wave responses to relevant words or pictures flashed on a computer screen. When the brain recognizes significant information — such as the details of a crime stored in the brain of the perpetrator — the brain responds with a MERMER (memory and encoding related multifaceted electroencephalographic response). When the information is not stored in the brain, no MERMER occurs.

In 1997, nineteen years after his conviction, Harrington petitioned the Iowa District court for post-conviction relief alleging several grounds for granting him a new trial, and in March 2000, he amended his petition to include the results of the Brain Fingerprinting testing.

In the Brain Fingerprinting tests, Harrington's brain did not emit a MERMER in response to critical details of the murder, details he would have known if he had committed the crime, indicating that this information was not stored in his brain. In a second Brain Fingerprinting test, one that included details about Harrington’s alibi, Harrington's brain did respond with a MERMER, indicating that his brain recognized these events. The details used in the second test were facts about the alibi that Dr. Farwell obtained from official court records and alibi witnesses.

"It is clear that Harrington's brain does not contain critical details about the crime," said Dr. Farwell. "His brain does, however, contain critical details about the events that actually took place that night, according to alibi witnesses who testified that Harrington was in another city with friends at the time of the crime. We can conclude scientifically that the record of the night of the crime stored in Harrington's brain does not match the crime scene, and does match the alibi."

When Dr. Farwell confronted him with the Brain Fingerprinting test results exonerating Harrington, Kevin Hughes, the key prosecution witness, recanted his testimony and admitted that he had lied in the original trial, falsely accusing Harrington to avoid being prosecuted for the murder himself.

In November 2000, the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County held a hearing on Terry Harrington’s petition for post-conviction relief from his sentence for murder. This hearing included an eight-hour session on the admissibility of the Brain Fingerprinting test report. In March 2001, District Judge Timothy O’Grady ruled that Brain Fingerprinting testing met the legal standards for admissibility in court as scientific evidence.

The judge also ruled, however, that the results of the Brain Fingerprinting test, along with other newly discovered evidence in the case, would probably not have resulted in the jury arriving at a different verdict than at the original trial, and therefore he denied the petition for a new trial.

In August 2001, an appeal of the District Court’s decision denying Harrington a new trial was filed with the Iowa Supreme Court. Dr. Farwell and his attorney, Tom Makeig, filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in support of Harrington’s appeal, based on the Brain Fingerprinting testing evidence. The Iowa Supreme Court reversed Harrington’s murder conviction and ordered a new trial.

In light of the new evidence, and considering that the only alleged witness to the crime had recanted and admitted he lied when Dr. Farwell confronted him with the exculpatory Brain Fingerprinting evidence, the State of Iowa elected not to try Harrington again.

Harrington and another man falsely convicted of the same crime sued the county, the prosecutors, and the police for framing him.  The United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the case against the county.  Before the case reached the Supreme Court, however, Pottawattamie County, Iowa settled out of court, paying Harrington and his co-defendant $12 million.

Farwell Brain Fingerprinting
Ruled Admissible as Scientific Evidence in Court

In a hearing in the Terry Harrington murder case, Pottawattamie County, Iowa District Court Judge Tim O'Grady ruled that Brain Fingerprinting testing is admissible in court. Dr. Farwell conducted a Brain Fingerprinting test on Terry Harrington, who was serving a life sentence in Iowa for a 1977 murder. The test showed that the record stored in Harrington's brain did not match the crime scene and did match the alibi. Harrington filed a petition for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence, including the Brain Fingerprinting test. The Iowa Supreme Court reversed his murder conviction and ordered a new trial. The Iowa Supreme Court left undisturbed the law of the case establishing the admissibility of the Brain Fingerprinting evidence.

The Harrington case is described above.

In a Brain Fingerprinting test, words, pictures or sounds describing salient features of a crime are presented by a computer, along with other, irrelevant information, that would be equally plausible for an innocent subject. Items are chosen that would be known only to the perpetrator and to investigators, but not to the public or to an innocent suspect. The subject is told which features he will see (e.g., the murder weapon), but is not told which item is correct (e. g, gun, knife, or baseball bat). When a subject recognizes something as significant in the current context, the brain emits a specific brain response. If the record of the crime is stored in the subject's brain, this response appears when the subject recognizes the correct, relevant items. If not, then the response is absent. A computerized mathematical analysis of the data determines whether or not the subject has knowledge of the salient details of the crime.

Just as a personal computer emits a characteristic sound whenever its central processing unit is transferring information to or from or the hard drive, the human brain emits a characteristic electrical brain wave response, known as a P300 and a P300-P300-MERMER (memory and encoding related multifaceted electroencephalographic response), whenever the subject responds to a known stimulus. The P300 electrical brain wave response, one aspect of the larger P300-MERMER response discovered and patented by Dr. Farwell, is widely known and accepted in the scientific community. There have been hundreds of studies conducted and articles published on it over the past thirty-plus years. The P300-MERMER, a longer and more complex response than the P300, comprises a P300 response, which is electrical events occurring 300 to 800 milliseconds after the stimulus, and additional data occurring more than 800 milliseconds after the stimulus.  While a P300 shows only a peak electrical response, a P300-MERMER has both a peak and a valley.            

In order to be admissible under the prevailing Daubert standard, the science utilized in a technology is evaluated based on the following four criteria: (The Iowa courts are not bound by the Daubert criteria used in the federal courts, but they do use them when determining the admissibility of novel scientific evidence.)

    1. Has the science been tested?

   2. Has the science been peer reviewed and published?

   3. Is the science accurate and are there standards for its application?

    4. Is the science well accepted in the scientific community?

The judge ruled that Brain Fingerprinting testing met all four of the legal requirements for being admitted as valid scientific evidence. The ruling stated: "The test is based on a 'P300 effect.'… "The P300 effect has been studied by psycho-physiologists…The P300 effect has been recognized for nearly twenty years. The P300 effect has been subject to testing and peer review in the scientific community. The consensus in the community of psycho-physiologists is that the P300 effect is valid…."

The judge also ruled that "The evidence resulting from Harrington's 'brain fingerprinting' test… is newly discovered" and "material to the issues in the case," and thus meets the standard for being considered in a petition for a new trial.

The Brain Fingerprinting test on Harrington showed that the record stored in his brain did not match the crime, and did match his alibi. This is similar a finding that Harrington's fingerprints or DNA did not match the fingerprints or DNA at the crime scene, and did match those at the scene of the alibi.

Dr. Farwell conducted two different analyses of the data on Harrington. Both yielded the same conclusion. He performed the test and the analyses in strict accordance with the P300 science that has been extensively researched and is well accepted in the scientific community. In another analysis, Dr. Farwell used more state-of-the-art techniques, including the P300-MERMER, which, though arguably more accurate, do not yet have the same level of acceptance as the P300.

After obtaining the results of the Brain Fingerprinting test, Dr. Farwell located the only alleged witness to the crime, Kevin Hughes. When Dr. Farwell confronted him with the Brain Fingerprinting test results exonerating Harrington, Hughes admitted that he had lied at Harrington's trial. He stated under oath that he had made up the story about Harrington committing the crime to avoid being prosecuted himself. Harrington’s attorney used Hughes' recantation along with Brain Fingerprinting test findings as evidence in his post-conviction petition for a new trial.

The Harrington case was about as difficult a case as could be envisioned for the Brain Fingerprinting system. The day after the crime, the perpetrator knows all about the crime and an innocent suspect knows nothing. Scientists could have readily constructed a Brain Fingerprinting test to distinguish between the two, if the technique had been invented at the time. Later, in his trial, Harrington was exposed to extensive information about the crime. This made it difficult after the trial to produce salient features of the crime that he would know only if he had committed the crime. Twenty-three years after the crime was committed, through examination of court documents, police reports, witness interviews, crime-scene photos and an investigation of crime scene itself, Dr. Farwell was able to structure a Brain Fingerprinting test that tested Harrington's brain for evidence of salient features of the crime, features that he claimed not to know because he was not there. The test showed that Harrington's brain in fact did not contain a record of these salient features of the crime. A second test conducted by Dr. Farwell showed that Harrington's brain did contain the details of his alibi.

As with other scientific evidence, Brain Fingerprinting testing does not prove guilt or innocence per se. It provides information about what is stored in the suspect's brain. A judge or jury can utilize this information in making the legal determination of guilt or innocence. The weight of the Brain Fingerprinting test evidence will be evaluated along with other evidence by a higher court in their consideration of Harrington's appeal. If a higher court finds that this and other evidence probably would have changed the result of the original trial if it had been known at the time, then Harrington will be granted a new trial.

"I believe the court’s admission of Brain Fingerprinting test results into evidence is a landmark in forensic science," said Dr. Farwell. "Innocent persons have a new technology to aid in their exoneration, and law enforcement has a new weapon with which to convict perpetrators. In the future we can use this technology to find out the truth early in a case. This will save innocent suspects from a traumatic investigation and trial, and potentially from false conviction and punishment. By allowing law enforcement to focus on the actual perpetrators, it will also save time and money in law enforcement.”

"I believe that in time we will be able to virtually eliminate false convictions through Brain Fingerprinting tests and other scientific technologies such as DNA and fingerprints. This new scientific technology will also allow us to significantly increase the number of actual criminals brought to justice."

Hundreds of scientific studies on this technology from dozens of laboratories have been published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Dr. Farwell has applied the technique not only in rigorous laboratory studies but also in over 100 real-life cases. Dr. Farwell and then FBI scientist Dr. Drew Richardson used the Brain Fingerprinting system to detect with 100% accuracy which people in a group were FBI agents and which were not by measuring brain responses to items only an FBI agent would recognize. Brain Fingerprinting testing was also 100% accurate in three studies Dr. Farwell conducted for a US intelligence agency and for the US Navy.

The Brain Fingerprinting system tests for knowledge of salient features of a crime stored in the brain. Scientists know that we don't remember everything, but we do remember significant features of major events — like committing a serious crime. By scientifically determining what is stored in a suspect's brain, Brain Fingerprinting testing provides evidence that can be used by judges and juries in making a determination as to whether the suspect committed the crime or not.


Legal article by Farwell and Makeig in Open Court on Brain Fingerprinting in the Harrington case

Legal article in Yale Journal of Law and Technology on Admissibility of Brain Fingerprinting in US Courts

News: Farwell Brain Fingerprinting ruled admissible in the Harrington case

Fairfield Ledger News Report: Farwell Brain Fingerprinting Catches a Serial Killer

News Report: Farwell's Brain Fingerprinting Catches a Serial Killer in Missouri

Peer-reviewed scientific paper in Cognitive Neurodynamics reporting on Grinder case and relevant research.

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