In the previous post on this topic, I listened to the brief interview with Branden Bell, the son of an FBI agent in Valdosta GA, who is alleged to have had an ongoing conflict with Kendrick Johnson, a highschool classmate of his who was found dead about two years ago in the highschool gym. Johnson’s death was ruled an accident, but there are red flags all over the investigation, so much so that the US Attorney’s office raided Bell’s and his father’s home and the local sheriff’s office, looking for evidence of tampering or obstruction. This investigation is ongoing.
Bell and his younger brother Brian offered to weirdly involved WSB reporter Mark Winne “unscripted” (I really doubt this) interviews without their lawyers present. I can’t imagine a competent lawyer NOT telling his adolescent charges never to say anything other than “no comment” to police or press, but this is what we have to work with. Branden Bell’s interview was short and not obviously dishonest; today, we’ll watch the first of Brian’s two, where he responds to the allegations of obstruction, and see what we can extract from it.
The video is short (2:48), but significantly longer than his brother’s.
- Bell begins by recounting his feelings when police burst into his Akron OH dorm room to begin the search. He’s good at “confused”. He also has a real slur to his voice: he speaks with “vocal fry” and doesn’t articulate well. He says, “What did we do?” as if he wouldn’t be aware his family was under investigation.
- He then recounts the marshals’ taking his phone and extracting the passcode from him. “Lack of affect” characterizes him well. “I’ve got nothin’ to hide,” is his go-to phrase.
- Winne asks him if he’s tampered with any witnesses. This is kind of funny to Brian, or maybe it’s embarrassment masquerading as funny, as many people have the habit of doing. “Not that I know of” is his answer. But watch his eyes: this is at 1:15 in the video. They keep flicking left (i.e., his right) just before he answers.
- Winne then hems and haws, and says, “If you laugh, people are going to read something into that,” then repeats the question. This is a terrible interviewing technique, by the way. Bell says “No” to Winne’s repeated questions, but to “Have you destroyed any evidence?”, the humor comes back. There’s a disconnect here between Bell’s tamped-down voice tone and his flickering eyes.
- Winne asks how Bell felt with marshals in his dorm room. Bell says, “I broke down, honestly.” It is very much a cliché to say that whenever someone uses “honestly” or one of its synonyms, they are misrepresenting themself.
- Winne recounts Bell’s (impressive) football statistics, and then says “You broke down and cried?” [WTF?] Bell seems at his most honest here, saying “Yes”.
- Winne asks Bell if he “thought it was over”, and again Bell seems pretty on point. “My dad said it was going to get worse before it gets better.”
As with Brenden’s interview, it’s Winne that stands out more than the man he’s interviewing. Some odd questions here: Winne seems real sympathetic. Brian Bell is ambiguous: it’s real hard to tell how much of what he’s saying is coached or gleaned from overhearing his elders. It’s hard to tell how much of his affect is football player, how much stage fright, how much dishonesty.
What really stands out to me is the disconnect between his low affect voice and his flickering eyes. Does this mean he’s lying? Not necessarily: it’s only 2:48 of video feed. Someone might be over there to his right: but is that person coaching him, or holding up a sign? Or baking cookies or whatever? Or just holding one of the lights? Not nearly enough information to tell. He’s not convincing at all, but he’s not obviously not convincing, either.
All of this really makes me wonder who cooked this stunt up and what the hell it’s supposed to do. Reassure us these kids are innocent? I’m not reassured—but it should be noted that neither am I much moved in the opposite direction. These two kids could be totally innocent of actual tampering or obstruction, and yet there could still be a structure of privilege protecting itself all around them.