Father Proves That Court Tapes Were Altered

By Ed Oliver
December 2000

: Stacks of master tapes of court hearings sit unattended in an unlocked office in Middlesex County Probate Court.

Zed McLarnon can prove that the tape recordings of his court hearings have been tampered with.

The embattled father is a forensic audio/visual consultant. He owns equipment and software capable of digitally inspecting audio signals. He demonstrated for Massachusetts News how he can detect the tape edits by magnifying the waves up to a thousand times until it is obvious to a layman what an edit looks like.

He became suspicious after he discovered key material was missing from tapes he had ordered for the purpose of having them transcribed.

His attorney, Gregory Hession, has compiled a comprehensive report that analyzes three tapes that he says were edited. Two of the tapes were edited over ten times each.

The tape machines are used by courts across the state to replace the stenographers who used to record court proceedings.

Photo: The master tapes are left unguarded and could have been accessed by nearly anyone.
Some of the material that the father and witnesses claim was edited out of the tapes includes the following:
- A comment by Chief Justice Sheila McGovern that she had met with the opponent's attorney "the other night," just before the trial, to discuss the case.
- The entire sworn testimony of his ex-wife. It was edited out of a November 30, 1994, hearing by Judge Boorstein because it contained blatant false statements by her which can be easily refuted with documentation.
- A refusal by Judge Boorstein to allow a guardian ad litem report by Atty. Lisa Steckler. The report was heavily biased by social worker friends and associates of David Douglas who never met nor interviewed McLarnon.

  The father also uses his home studio to compose and record music. He composed the "Free Harry" song in support of Harry Stewart, the minister who was jailed after refusing to sign a coerced and false confession of violence against his wife at a batterers program co-founded by Douglas.

Lawyers Close Ranks
The report by Atty. Hession demonstrates that the edits to the tapes were made by amateurs rather than by a skilled technician using sophisticated computer equipment. For that reason, electromechanical "spikes" can easily be detected and distinguished from the signals generated when the court officers start and stop the machine. Syntax problems and splices can also be picked up by ear, according to the report.

Attorney Hession distributed the report to several offices including the Middlesex Probate Court, the Probate Court Register's office, the Middlesex District Attorney, the Attorney General, the Massachusetts Inspector General, the Judicial Conduct Commission, the state Supreme Judicial Court and the FBI.

He also wrote letters and personally met with officials of the above offices to discuss the tampering with court dockets and files in addition to the tapes. But he has witnessed little or no interest in the matter.

Massachusetts News met with the outgoing Middlesex Register of Probate, Lee Johnson, and called Jane Fitzpatrick of the DA's office, Eric Knight of the Massachusetts Inspector General's Office and Kathy Morrissey of the Attorney General's Office to ask if they had investigated the matter.

: Atty. Hession

Jane Fitzpatrick of the Middlesex DA's Office refused to answer questions. However, shortly after MassNews placed repeated calls to the DA's office, they followed up with Hession for the first time in six months to tell him they didn't think there was any merit to the complaints. Later, a DA spokesman told Massachusetts News they looked at the complaints but did not investigate.

Eric Knight of the Inspector General's Office said law "12 A" says he does not have to answer any questions. 

The Attorney General's office was also unresponsive. MassNews called Kathy Morrisey specifically because the father says he spoke with her over a period of two weeks in May 1996 after his son contacted him. He complained to her about things he said he knew were illegal concerning a suppressed evaluation, edited tapes and a report that was disallowed but still placed in his file to poison his case.

After he realized they weren't acting on his complaints, he says he grew suspicious and asked Morrisey if she knew Douglas personally. She said yes, that he is a friend of the Attorney General's office and they wouldn't be prosecuting him. "Tom Reilly knows all about you, Mr. McLarnon, you're the one who's going to be prosecuted," she allegedly told him.

MassNews asked Morrissey whether she said those things and if she knew Douglas. Morrissey would only answer, "I can neither confirm nor deny that." After a few hours, Morrissey called back to say the matter had been referred to the DA's office at the time and to check with them. When pressed about whether she knew Douglas, she said she did not.

The father says he has a taped conversation of a former attorney of his, Sonya Pence, acknowledging that Pence told him in June 1996 that then District Attorney Tom Reilly was his enemy and wanted to throw him in jail.

At the time that Pence was his attorney, she worked as an assistant to Gil Sakakeeny in Juvenile Probation at Middlesex District Court, but she didn't tell the father his son was prosecuted and put on probation.

The father says that for over two years Pence failed to call witnesses, cross-examine his ex-wife, strike affidavits, etc. He eventually sued Pence for malpractice and won the case this year. 

Register Is No Help
Outgoing Register of Probate Lee Johnson met with MassNews in his office but was equally unresponsive about the matter. Atty. Hession met with him months ago and said Johnson seemed reasonably concerned and left him with the impression he would look into it right away.

MassNews asked Johnson if he remembered Hession and their discussion. Johnson at first said he didn't remember because he sees a lot of people. When asked if he gets complaints about edited tapes and manipulated files and dockets every day, he said he vaguely recalled meeting Atty. Hession. He said he doesn't recall what he did about it and doesn't know off the top of his head if anyone else contacted him about the matter.

Johnson asked why this is relevant now and was told the matter is going before the Supreme Court in December. When MassNews asked Johnson for permission to have an interview with his tape coordinator, George Briggs, he answered, "The complaint involves edited tapes? No, you cannot speak to George Briggs."

Interestingly, while this reporter sat in Johnson's office facing his desk, Clerk Arthur Havey came quietly into the office unnoticed from behind and listened. An associate of this reporter noticed Havey slip into the office.

Havey is a constant in the father's story because he was the clerk in at least three of the hearings whose tapes were later edited. According to the father, Havey even tried to intervene in a judge's decision to strike a discredited evaluation of the father. The clerk argued to the judge that if that were done, there would be nothing on which to base the restraining order. The judge struck it anyway and ordered a new evaluation that was never completed.

Havey would not give his job title to MassNews but he appears to be the head clerk and has the run of the courthouse and judges' offices. The father believes Havey would know if files and dockets were manipulated. Havey denied knowing David Douglas and acknowledged he sometimes speaks in court.