Did witness identify attacker with her therapist’s help?
Christopher Compas gets charges that he hired a hitman to assault his ex-girlfriend annulled at Hillsborough North Superior Court; Monday, October 1, 2012. The charges were dropped last January, but Compas faces other assault charges in Merrimack County. ( Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
A Pembroke woman attacked in her home last year has told the police that she knew the masked assailant was Christopher Compas, her ex-boyfriend, because the two locked eyes the moment before he fled from her room. But interview transcripts now filed in court suggest that memory surfaced only after the woman sought the help of a therapist.
Compas’s lawyer, Jim Rosenberg, has asked a judge to let him review the woman’s mental health records, saying that because her identification of the attacker was “based on a previously repressed memory,” he’ll likely file a motion to keep the evidence from trial.
Compas was arrested March 2, 2012, two days after the mother of his daughter reported that a man had broken into her home and attacked her with a knife, the word “hore” carved into the blade. Before he left, the attacker lit a fire in a paper bag beside her bed. Compas, through his lawyer, has said he was at his Manchester home with his wife when the incident occurred.
This case had been scheduled for trial in Merrimack County Superior Court later this month. But Rosenberg recently asked a judge to push back that date, then filed a lengthy motion – including police reports and transcripts from two interviews the woman had with Pembroke officers – asking a judge to grant access to her mental health records. Prosecutor George Waldron did not return multiple requests for comment. But Rosenberg said yesterday the parties have filed a proposed order agreeing that the records be supplied to the court for further review.
In his motion, Rosenberg said the prosecutor’s case weighs heavily on the woman’s ability to identify Compas as her attacker. But in an interview at 4:12 a.m. the morning of the incident, the woman was unsure of that identification, telling officers that she didn’t get a clear look at the man who was standing over her, dressed in black. She said she didn’t see her attacker’s eyes, and when an officer asked if there were any characteristics that would help her identify the man, she answered with a simple, “No.”
“Sorry, but no,” she said, according to a written transcript of the interview.
But the woman had suspicions, saying the man “smelled like Chris’s house” and used a phrase – “f------ Jesus”– that her ex-boyfriend used all the time. The officer asked if she thought the man that attacked her was Compas.
“Yeah, that’s my feeling,” she said before wavering. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
A week later, when the woman came to the police department without an appointment and asked to have another interview, she was much more sure of herself. She said that she had been having “flashbacks,” and the memories had been returning to her in “bits and pieces.”
“I’d been, uh, to my therapist. I have a therapist, um uh. We were talking about the fire. . . . I was remembering putting the fire out, and there was something missing. And I, I went back to when he was lighting the fire. And I was trying, there was something missing and I, I turned my head, I, I, I, remember turning my head and seeing him light the fire. . . . Our eyes met.”
She also described more physical characteristics like the man’s height and the shape of his shoulders. Again, an officer asked the woman who she believed her attacker was that night.
“Oh, I know it was Chris,” she said. “It was Chris. I saw him. I saw his eyes.”
The state Supreme Court has given guidance on how previously repressed memories should be treated in court, saying a judge must decide before trial whether the memory is sufficiently reliable.
That can depend on several factors, ranging from whether the psychological community generally accepts the phenomenon of repressed and recovered memories to how much time lapsed between the event in question and when the memory resurfaced.
The burden, the justices decided, is on prosecutors to prove that “the recovered memory is as accurate as ordinary human memory.”
The justices did express apprehension in cases where memories were recovered through the help of a therapist, saying that process is often geared at “treatment and cure of the patient,” not determining facts.
“Within the environment of therapy, a patient may report memories in response to the perceived expectations of the therapist or in response to other forces,” the justices wrote.
A lawyer representing the woman in her family court proceedings with Compas said yesterday that he believes she was suffering from post-traumatic stress and wasn’t surprised that certain details resurfaced with time.
“It took some time for her to overcome the shock and put the pieces together,” attorney David Bailinson said. “And I also think she started putting it together long before she met with her therapist.”
While the police arrested Compas before the woman was able to confidently identify him as her attacker, the officers knew at the time that Compas had been accused of trying to hurt his ex-girlfriend before. In November 2011, he was charged with conspiring to hire a Manchester police officer posing as a hitman to attack the woman and scar her face. Those charges were dropped, and the case has since been removed from Compas’s record.
The police believe Compas assaulted the woman in her home because he was upset over restrictions to his visitation with their daughter.