Lansing State Journal

McCollum interview with police questioned
Expert calls conviction 'shocking'; Dunnings says analysis is biased

September 13, 2007
Kevin Grasha
Lansing State Journal

A police interview that led to Claude McCollum's murder conviction was flawed, and even shows he could be innocent, an expert told the State Journal.

McCollum, 30, is serving a life prison sentence for the 2005 slaying of Lansing Community College professor Carolyn Kronenberg. In an interview Friday at the St Louis Correctional Facility in Gratiot County, McCollum said he was wrongfully convicted.

On Jan. 25, 2005, two days after Kronenberg was found barely alive in her classroom, detectives interviewed McCollum, a drifter with no fixed address who was taking classes at the school and sometimes slept in campus buildings.

McCollum's statements were a major component of the case prosecutors presented at trial.

In the interview, the detectives never asked McCollum directly if he killed Kronenberg. Instead, they led him through a series of questions about how he might have committed the crime.

"McCollum's statements are not a reliable indication that he is guilty. They speak as much, if not more, to his innocence than they do his guilt," said Steven Drizin, legal director for the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University's law school, which has been instrumental in freeing 11 death row inmates in Illinois.

"It's shocking to me that this was enough to charge, and ultimately convict somebody," said Drizin, who reviewed transcripts of the two-hour interview.

LCC Police Chief John Imeson referred all questions to the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office. The college's police department was the lead investigative agency.

Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III - who announced this week that he has reopened the case based on new information - said Wednesday there were correlations between what McCollum said and the physical evidence.

He said Drizin's analysis was biased because of his affiliation with a group that looks for wrongful convictions.

Dunnings added: "I don't see how he can give an opinion about the value of the statement without matching that statement to other evidence presented at trial."

More wrong than right
Experts say the purpose of most police interrogations is to elicit incriminating statements and admissions from a suspect. Police are trained to help suspects explain a lack of memory by raising the possibility they blacked out or were sleepwalking.

"I've seen a lot of wrongful confessions, where police, in order to keep the suspect talking, ask hypothetical questions about how a crime might have happened," said Drizin, who co-authored a 2004 study of 125 proven false confessions.

During McCollum's interview with police, he responds to questions about how he could have killed Kronenberg and describes details that occasionally match the actual crime scene.

Click HERE for transcript of police interview.
[1 page missing]

Excerpts from police interview

Excerpts from a Jan. 25, 2005 police interview with Claude McCollum:

• Claude McCollum: "... and I know when I was asked did I do it, you know, I said, 'Well, the only way I could have done it was unconsciously, and that would be happening in my sleep ... "

• McCollum (later in interview): "I see your point. If the doors were unlocked, yeah, it's possible. I could have got in there and committed a homicide, I guess."

• Detective Bruce Lankheet: "Well, how do you think it would have happened if you committed it?"

• McCollum: "I'm thinking - that bothers me there. I can't even imagine any type of physical aggression against a person."

• Lankheet: "So, she's the aggressor. You are trying to defend yourself. And so how did ... how would it have happened after that? How - just kind of go into how it might have happened."

• McCollum: "She may have - I'm not sure how it works, but if she fell, then she could have got knocked unconscious. And I guess some people just are different. They automatically - their body shuts down. They can't handle it."

• Lankheet: "Okay. How would she have been raped after?"

• McCollum: "I think, I guess, there was a accident - an actual incident with a guy by the name of Ted Bundy."

• Lankheet: "Okay."

• McCollum: "And I've heard about it. I, I, I, may have seen the movie, but I can't recall. I just know there was a movie and this actually happened in real life. He would kill women and afterwards rape them. But I guess I don't think that he was a sleepwalker while he did it. It was all intentional."

• Lankheet: "Right. That's a little different. If a person is sleepwalking they have a little bit of an explanation for it. It is not intentional at that point."
Drizin said McCollum is wrong more often than right.

McCollum also can't describe what Kronenberg looked like, her age or what she was wearing, facts Drizin said the killer would recall.

McCollum, who had no previous criminal record, told the State Journal he has a low IQ and it takes him longer than most people to grasp concepts.

'Preconceived theory'

At one point, McCollum tells a detective that he only could have committed the crime in his sleep. The detective then asks what he remembers. When McCollum says he wouldn't remember anything, the detective begins asking hypothetical questions.

"And how would you have went to the room if you had done this in your sleep?" the detective asks. That kind of questioning continues until McCollum describes a scenario where he defends himself, pushes a woman, and she hits her head on a desk. He later says it's possible he hit her in the head with a telephone receiver. Investigators found a telephone receiver on the classroom floor.

A forensic pathologist testified at trial that Kronenberg suffered a broken jaw, fractured skull and injuries caused by "significant force" to the front of her face. She died from a severed artery at the base of her brain and strangulation.

"McCollum doesn't come anywhere near that description," Drizin said.

McCollum later guesses that Kronenberg was sexually assaulted, saying "You guys are going to tell me anyway, but I get the indication that she was possibly raped afterwards."

Kronenberg was sexually assaulted with a remote control. After prodding by a detective, McCollum describes a paperweight, computer mouse and a rock, but never mentions a remote control.

"The kind of information he gets right is information that could very easily be guessed at - and guessed at correctly," Drizin said, adding that it was possible police told him about the sexual assault during earlier questioning.
At trial, prosecutors often described McCollum's police interview as a confession, said Peter Ellenson, the attorney handling McCollum's appeal.

"All of McCollum's answers were in the form of 'would have' or 'might have,' " Ellenson said in a brief filed with the state Court of Appeals.

"It seems to me police had a preconceived theory," Drizin said. "They have no motive, no reason for McCollum to have attacked her. This crime was committed by someone with tremendous rage, who is a sexual predator and possibly a sadist."

Contact Kevin Grasha at 267-1347 or kgrasha@lsj.com

Exonerations
Police/Prosecutor Misconduct

Truth in Justice