Skip to main content

Shifting the investigative interviewing paradigm

Joseph Eastwood, PhD

Associate Professor, Ontario Tech University



 April 27, 2021

On March 26, 2021, in one of the most brutal and high-profile cases in recent Oshawa history, Adam Strong was convicted of first-degree murder and manslaughter in the deaths of Rori Hache and Kandis Fitzpatrick. As with any cases of this nature, an extensive police investigation took place, and a variety of forensic evidence was gathered. One of the key elements that ultimately led to the successful conviction, however, was an interview with Strong that was conducted by Detective Paul Mitton of the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS; retired). Throughout an interview that spanned nearly 12-hours, Strong made a number of admissions to Det. Mitton regarding his relationship and interactions with the victims - admissions that became core aspects of the crown’s case during the trial.   

For many people familiar with depictions of criminal investigations in popular media, the concept of suspect interviews evokes imagery of small rooms, bright lights, and aggressive and accusatorial interviewers who quickly convince the suspect to “give it up”. For those familiar with true-crime cases and wrongful convictions, including our students in the Forensic Psychology and Criminology programs here at Ontario Tech University, the concepts of false confessions in the face of guilt-presumptive questioning and problematic persuasion tactics may also be front-of-mind. As was made clear by Ontario Superior Court Justice Di Luca in his ruling, however, Det. Mitton’s approach in this case was not of this kind at all. Instead, it was “fair, professional, friendly, truthful, patient, and colloquial” and the resulting statements by Strong were “easily admissible”. So how exactly did Detective Mitton manage to gather incriminating information from Adam Strong in a manner that was both effective and ethical?

I believe that I am well suited to answer that question, as I have had the privilege of working closely with Det. Mitton over the past 6 years to deliver interview training courses both within the DRPS and for other investigatory organizations. The strategies that Det. Mitton employed during the Strong interview constitute current best-practices related to questioning suspects, which included him adopting an information-gathering and inquisitorial approach that focused on building a relationship with the suspect – characterized by Justice Di Luca as building “buddy-buddy rapport”. This approach also entails using the known evidence strategically throughout the interview both to generate further dialogue with the suspect and to compare against their account in a way that allows for credibility of the admissions to be established objectively. It is this approach characterized by relationship-building and strategic use of evidence which Det. Mitton created by treating Strong with respect and genuine interest in his perspective that allowed him to have extensive dialogue with Strong, and which ultimately produced the admissions that would prove vital to establishing Strong’s guilt.

Watching most crime shows over the past few decades, you would think that most crimes are solved by forensic evidence – blood spatter, DNA, fingerprints, and so on. While advances in forensic evidence technology are valuable, and such evidence was an important part of the Strong case, the reality presented in real-world investigations is slightly more boring. The majority of crimes are still resolved by talking to people – gathering accurate and detailed information from victims and witnesses and conducting thorough interviews with suspects to gather inculpatory and exculpatory information. Despite the importance of suspect interviews, evidence-based practices are not the norm within criminal investigations in North America. Instead, many officers still rely on outdated approaches including inaccurate deception-detection strategies, lying about or exaggerating evidence, and accusatorial guilt-presumptive questioning. Not only are these tactics less effective in convincing the suspect to talk, but they also run the risk of producing negative consequences such as false confession and inadmissible statements. It is my hope, however, that by highlighting the success of a more evidence-based and ethical questioning approach within real-world cases, such as Adam Strong’s, we can continue to see a shift for the better in questioning practices. A shift toward evidence-based practices not only prevents the aforementioned undesirable outcomes, but also ensures that justice can be served for those who can no longer speak for themselves.