Judge bars teacher's statement to polygraph expert

June 22, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien and Kris Antonelli | Dennis O'Brien and Kris Antonelli,Sun Staff Writers

An Anne Arundel Circuit judge ruled yesterday that a statement to a polygraph expert by a teacher charged with leaving a blind, handicapped student in a storage closet last winter cannot be used by prosecutors because it was coerced.

Judge H. Chester Goudy ruled that Susan Hope Pagano's statement to Lloyd White, a state-appointed polygraph expert, that she "felt guilty about what happened" was made after a promise that Ms. Pagano would not be charged if she passed the lie detector test.

Ms. Pagano had agreed to be tested on March 23 after Cynthia M. Ferris, assistant state's attorney who heads the office's sex abuse unit, told the teacher's attorney that she would take "a hard look" at the case if the teacher passed the test.

Based on that conversation, Ms. Pagano's lawyer, Roland Walker, told his client that she would not be prosecuted if she passed, according to testimony in a pretrial hearing earlier this month.

Judge Goudy said yesterday that Ms. Ferris' statements to Mr. Walker were a sufficient promise to render the statement inadmissible.

"Both Ms. Ferris' statement to Mr. Walker and his statement to Ms. Pagano infer that a successful lie detector examination will preclude or greatly diminish the likelihood of charges being filed," the judge wrote.

State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said that he was disappointed with the ruling but that there still was enough evidence for a trial.

Mr. Walker said he was gratified the statement was ruled inadmissible, because what his client said was misinterpreted by Mr. White.

"She never said it the way it came out," he said.

He added that although Mr. White said Ms. Pagano failed his lie detector test, she passed an earlier one given by another polygraph expert.

Ms. Pagano, 38, of the 6100 block of Encounter Row, Columbia, is charged with misconduct in office and obstruction of justice stemming from the Dec. 10 incident at the Ruth Parker Eason School in Millersville.

She remains on leave with pay.

The girl, 16, is strapped to a wheelchair and has the mental capacity of an infant. She became handicapped at 18 months when she touched a defective television antenna and suffered a severe electrical shock.

Her father said that she was brought home from school crying the day of the incident and had bruises and cuts on her arms. He took her to North Arundel Hospital, where emergency room personnel called the police.

He said his daughter, who cannot speak, refused to let anyone touch her for weeks afterward.

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