On Dec. 1, 2008, in Worcester, Ma., a 16-year-old girl confessed to police that she killed her 13-month-old son by smothering him to death with a teddy bear. Nearly three years after being convicted and sentenced for the murder, Nga Truong was released from prison after a judge ruled that her confession was coerced by police. And now, the video of the interrogation has been released, exposing how police intimidated a frightened teenager into confessing to the murder of her own son.
The video was obtained by Boston's WBUR radio station, which fought for the release of the video through a lengthy court battle. In the two-hour long video, two husky police detectives sit across from Truong, whose son, Khyle, had died merely one day prior to the interrogation, and pepper her with insinuations, threats, and misleading promises such as “If you admit it, we can get you some help.”
“You tell us the truth, and I can guarantee you, you'll feel better,” Sgt. Kevin Pageau says to Truong on the tape.
“I did tell the truth,” she says, sobbing.
“No you didn't tell us the truth,” Pageau answers, before beginning what defense attorneys claim was a method of “feeding” her a confession.
Pageau's version of events was inspired by an incident that Truong experienced when she was 8-years-old. Told by her mother to watch her 3-month-old baby brother, Hein, the infant died of sudden death syndrome while in her care. That led Pageau to suspect that Truong was a baby-killer.
“There's no sudden death syndrome!” Pageau says, raising his voice as he moves a box of tissues away from Truong.
“Sudden death syndrome? How about big sister syndrome? You were watching [Hein] when he died. And now you're alone with another baby and he dies?...Either you're a liar or you just got the worst luck in the world.”
He continues: “If you think this is going to be like that other baby that you were watching so well, you’re sadly mistaken. And you may have gotten away with it once. But you ain’t getting away with it this time.”
Truong continues to deny that she had anything to do with Khyle's death, but Pageau persists, telling her that she did it because she was angry that her mother made her watch kids and she “never had much of a chance to be kid” herself.
Pageau also resorts to what could be considered bribing, telling Truong that if she confesses rather than go through a criminal procedure, he will be able to get her “help,” as well as a better home for her siblings than the one they were in.
Pageau also lied to Truong about how her baby died. He repeatedly told her that a medical examiner found that Khyle suffocated and had been “smothered” to death. However, the medical examiner had not yet done an autopsy on the baby, WBUR reported.
Ed Ryan, Truong's attorney, said that the combination of intimidation, false promises, and lies about the baby's death amounted to “psychological torture” that was simply designed to force a confession according to what detectives believed happened – not what actually did happen.
“Their interrogation was designed not to determine the truth, not to get at the facts,” says Ryan. "Their intention was designed to force her to confess to doing it in the way they figure she did it. They are the ones that force-fed her the word 'suffocation.' "
It worked. Truong eventually confessed, saying she “smothered” her baby – the same word Pageau had repeatedly used.
In Aug. 2011, a judge threw out the confession on grounds that it was coerced. With no other evidence linking Truong to Khyle's death, she was released.
“I wanted to leave,” Truong said about being in the small interrogation room with the two detectives. “I felt like the only way to leave was to tell them what they wanted to hear. I would never, ever, in a million years, hurt my own child. I thought they were just gonna let me go. I didn't know they were gonna put handcuffs on me. I thought they were gonna let me go.”
Two and a half years later, she was let go. Truong is now in taking college classes and working. Detectives involved in the case had not responded to WBRU regarding the coerced confession.