Texas' Use of Hypnosis for Death Row Hangs in Balance

AUSTIN — For many people, the word “hypnosis” evokes images of swinging pocket watches, swirling vortexes and impressionable subjects mesmerized by movie villains.They think of Get Out, The Manchurian Candidate, even Office Space.But in the Lone Star State, it isn’t a parlor trick or Hollywood ploy. Here, hypnosis is a matter of life and death.Texas has the most robust forensic hypnosis program in the country, training police officers across the state to sharpen or recall crime witnesses’ lost memories. As more and more states ban the practice, law enforcement here turns to it at least a dozen times a year.Now, two Dallas-area death row inmates are arguing it’s time to stop. Their executions have been delayed as they fight their convictions, which they claim were based on “junk science.”“Once you have, at a minimum, serious questions that a technique sent a man to death row, you need to change the way you use that technique,” Gregory Gardner, an attorney who has defended both men, told The Dallas Morning News. Hypnosis “does so much more harm to innocent people than getting guilty people behind bars.”Is forensic hypnosis quackery that’s sent innocent men to their deaths, or a powerful law enforcement technique that can crack open cold cases? One of the state’s most controversial investigative tools is about to be tested.Devotees and detractorsTo understand hypnosis, readers must suspend their preconceptions.Supporters and skeptics alike agree it’s not a mind-control technique. Professional hypnotists won't make you bark like a dog. They don’t put people to sleep. Subjects are alert and awake at all times. They don't employ swinging watches or vortexes — usually. There is also agreement that hypnosis can be valuable in therapy. Mental health professionals have used it to get patients to kick addiction and as a relaxation tool to help heal trauma.The real rift between devotees and detractors is over whether hypnosis can sharpen or unlock lost memories. Law enforcement personnel who use "forensic hypnosis" — employing the technique as a "relaxation tool" to get witnesses and victims to recall what they saw — believe it can, and point to several cases as proof.  Continue reading...

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