Terry Harrington has served 22 years for a murder he says he didn't commit, but he might be a free man soon thanks to new evidence admitted in a retrial last fall: his brain.
Lawrence Farwell, Ph.D., a psychiatrist with Brain Wave Science, a brain research laboratory in Fairfield, Iowa, has developed a technique called "brain fingerprinting" that measures brain activity--or inactivity--following attempts to trigger memories.
In the procedure, Farwell monitors the brain's electrical activity while the subject is exposed to words or pictures that may have significant meaning to him. A criminal suspect like Harrington, for example, might be asked to think about events surrounding the crime. Both real and false circumstances are displayed on a computer monitor while the suspect's brain activity is recorded.
"If the suspect recognizes the details of the crime, this indicates that he has a record of the crime stored in his brain--including things that only the perpetrator would know," says Farwell. But innocent people exhibit no special brain activity because they lack the context that would make a particular answer meaningful. According to Farwell, Harrington's brain showed no memory of the crime scene but did show memories of attending a rock concert with friends the same night, which matches Harrington's alibi.