'Elizabeth Smart: Finding Justice': Candra Torres's trauma made her pass a polygraph test despite lying in it
A polygraph is a device that measures signals, specifically, body signals of various kinds which include, heart and breath. It also records skin conductance, that is, how easily the body resists weak electric current based on how much sweat the test taker produces. The polygraph is used as a lie-detecting device, as lying produces a sort of anxiety that is expressed unconsciously and physiologically through the body, even though it is denied verbally. However, it is not the ultimate lie-detecting tool, even with a trained and skillful administrator. There is a significant amount of variability in how different people lie, that the act of being measured can produce anxiety that could create opportunities for false positives. In addition, a person good at lying can easily pass the test as long as they believe their own lies.
Candra Torres was held captive by Thomas Browne, a stranger she had met when on a hike with her husband, Jose 'Julio' Torres, and their dog, Rusty, in the Mt Hood National Forest, Oregon in 1976. Browne killed both her husband and her dog, abducted her and brainwashed her to the point where he was certain that she wouldn't be telling authorities the truth behind what had actually happened to her. Her captor was a skilled manipulator and liar who effortlessly passed a polygraph test despite lying his way through it. But what was even more shocking was that Torres, who basically defended her captor by spouting out the lies he had fed her also passed the test. Torres shared her story with kidnapping-survivor-turned-activist and now crime reporter, Elizabeth Smart, in a new Lifetime network documentary special entitled 'Elizabeth Smart: Finding Justice'
Despite knowing that everything was not as it seemed, Torres was compelled to lie through her polygraph test which she passed. She was the victim of a psychological condition called 'Stockholm Syndrome'. According to its medical definition, Stockholm syndrome is “a group of psychological symptoms that occur in some persons in a captive or hostage situation”. This phenomenon has garnered widespread media attention in the past in the kidnapping cases of Patty Hearst (1976), Elizabeth Smart (2002), and Jaycee Duggard (2009). Torres became a victim of the syndrome through Browne's manipulation and brainwashing. Even after she witnessed him kill her dog and he admitted to murdering her husband, he was able to convince her that her husband's death was an accidental occurrence.
Torres was held captive in the wilderness for three days by a stranger and murderer who sexually assaulted her repeatedly. When she returned to civilization and approached authorities, she'd managed to report her husband's death to the police but in a way that portrayed her captor in an innocent light. Later, it would take her some time to fully comprehend the events that had transpired during the tragic trip. Days later, after she could think more clearly she remembered that her husband hadn't died by accident, but was murdered at the hands of Browne. The change in her story led to her being treated as a suspicious witness, especially after she failed her second polygraph test. The entire case was so puzzling that former Clackamas County detective, Jim Byrnes gauging the sensitivity of Torres's situation contacted a psychiatrist to find out if someone could fail a lie-detector test.
Eventually, Brown was indicted and convicted of Torres's husband's murder, after much pushing from her family, and the Stockholm Syndrome was also cited in the case that helped get justice for Julio Torres's death. Dr Rebecca Bailey, a psychologist interviewed for the special explains how Torres could have passed her polygraph test the first time around and failed the second time. The major possibility is that her body's physical response to the life threat and trauma that she had gone through ultimately contributed to her passing her first lie-detection test. "How you feel in your body is more important than the story you created," said Dr Bailey. In Torres's case, it wasn't just her brain that had blocked out the truth, but her body had the same and she was thus able to keep her heart rate slow.
The term 'Stockholm Syndrome' was used in Torres's case when it was relatively new and the psychiatrist that had spoken with her in 1976 told her she was dealing with extreme trauma, isolation, indoctrination and the promise of reward. However, Dr Bailey said otherwise. She deemed the phrase "offensive" and added that it is outdated in its depiction. According to her, it is not that the survivors feel connected to their captors rather they do what they have to in order to ensure their survival. She said the term "appeasement process" was more befitting to describe it. Frank Ochberg, a psychiatrist who specializes in trauma and helped define the term for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Scotland Yard said, “There are a lot of ironic things that can happen when people are traumatized…including that a captive—who often thinks he or she is going to die—might end up having positive feelings toward the hostage-taker.”
Ochberg went on to describe this dynamic occurring due to the hostage being distraught by the initial danger to their life that they experience, that their subsequent survival results in a feeling of overwhelming gratitude. Torres even echoed the sentiments in the special when she said, “I was so thankful that I was going to be back with my family and that I was going to see people again. I think he felt like I was totally under his control—which I was… At this point, you’re almost grateful to this evil person, because you’re alive.” Torres was only able to return to the police after she came clean to her mother, narrating the story as she remembered. Her mother comprehended the account for what it was, a murder and a subsequent cover-up. Although law enforcement arrested Browne, they didn't get a major break in the case until he confessed his crime to a cellmate. This combined with Torres's testimony helped convict Browne for Julio Torres's murder in 1977. He has been serving a life sentence at Oregon State Penitentiary ever since.