In Lisa Irwin case, legal wrangling with police is part of the system

The Kansas City StarOctober 26, 2011 

Just the thought of putting his clients in a room with police officers makes defense lawyer John Picerno nervous.

“My own view is that my clients should never talk to police,” Picerno said Tuesday. “I tell them, ‘The prisons are full of people who talked to the police. The police are going to do what they are going to do, with or without your cooperation and your statement.’ ”

Still, defense lawyers and former investigators said that ongoing negotiations between police and attorneys for the parents of a missing 11-month-old girl over the conditions for more interviews are a routine part of the system.

Last week Cyndy Short, a lawyer for Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin, said she was setting boundaries for her clients’ cooperation with police and insisting on ground rules in exchange for additional interviews about the disappearance of Lisa Irwin in early October.

Police have issued public appeals to Bradley and Irwin for separate “unrestricted” interviews to follow up on issues raised at their last formal interrogation on Oct. 8.

Conducting separate interviews is a standard police procedure. Officers even do it at traffic accident scenes, where they pull drivers and witnesses apart to speak to them. So they certainly wouldn’t deviate from the practice in a missing-child case, said Capt. Steve Young, a Kansas City police spokesman.

“We want to know what they have to say on their own,” Young said.

The parents also have refused to allow police to have specially trained social workers reinterview their older children from previous relationships, boys ages 6 and 8 who were at the home when Lisa disappeared.

As a general rule, police do not interview children who are witnesses. Instead, they refer them to a child protection center, where social workers talk to the children. Police are not allowed in the room.

In the Irwin case, social workers talked to one boy for 30 minutes and the other boy for 50 minutes the day Lisa vanished. Police have not been able to send the boys back to the center.

Negotiations between lawyers and police on setting up witness interviews often result in interviews that are less than ideal for both sides, experts said.

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