Oxygen’s new docuseries Criminal Confessions explores the psychological face-off between investigators and suspects inside the interrogation room. In each hour-long episode, viewers hear from real-life detectives, who explain what it takes to get a culprit to finally admit to their crime. Sgt. Brian Harris of Houston, TX — who appears on the show — spoke exclusively with In Touch and revealed the secret to a successful confession.
“The biggest challenge is developing a story to help the person have that ‘Aha!’ moment in a way that will let them see that it is to their advantage to make an admission. It is always a self- serving admission,” Brian told us. “You have to keep in mind I never make them do anything; it is always their choice and that is what is so powerful about their own words.”
He added, “Any admission or any confession is verbal suicide. They know that and all defense attorneys know it as well. A simple nod of the head or a simple acknowledgement is the first step, but the most challenging step.”
Though many of his interviewees have committed heinous crimes, Brian said that the key to getting a suspect to loosen up is by trying to connect with them. “Treating people with dignity and respect is huge. Know the facts of your case, know the suspect. Is he/she an emotional offender or non-emotional offender? If they are an emotional offender, the absolute key is to find out who is the constant in their life,” he explained. “You will know this if you do your research. You have to be conversational and listen. You need to develop your questions based on what they tell you, not what you want to ask or want to hear. It makes for a longer interview, but it will be their interview.”
Of all his interrogations, Brian — who’s been in law enforcement for 28 years, and holds a master’s degree in Strategic Leadership from Mountain State University — told In Touch that the longest interview he’s conducted took a whopping nine hours, while his “shortest confession was from a 76-year-old man who killed his sister, and admitted to it within minutes.”
Brian knows his craft so well that he even developed the Houston Police Department’s Interview and Interrogation and Advanced Interviewing training programs. He also founded The Basic Investigator’s School, as well as the Houston Police Recruiter’s Interview School. Asked to share the case that’s had the most profound affect on him, the experienced officer revealed that he will never forget his efforts dedicated to the trial of convicted murderer Christine Paolilla. She is currently serving a life sentence for fatally shooting four people in 2003.
“I got very close with one of the victim’s family and they were and still are in pain years later. The solving of the case does not necessarily bring closure, just answers to some questions that lead to more questions,” Brian said. “This case gained a lot of attention as well.”
Criminal Confessions airs on Oxygen Sundays at 7 p.m. ET.