Tuesday, February 5, 2008

First "Dr. Phil," now "Dr. Bob"

Psychology credentials at issue in Illinois murder trial

Two decades ago, imprisoned murderer Brian Dugan volunteered to participate in a study of sexual predators being conducted by a psychologist with the state of Illinois. That has come back to haunt him, as government attorneys try to introduce the old audio recordings in an effort to get him executed.

In a bizarre twist, Dugan's attorneys are claiming that the researcher was a "fraud" who was never properly licensed or credentialed despite years of practicing in the state of Illinois.

The allegations against Robert Thorud first came to light in 2004, when the Chicago Daily Herald conducted an investigation into his background.

At the time, "Dr. Bob" - as he was known - was the CEO of a group home for abused and neglected children that was under state investigation over allegedly dangerous and unsanitary conditions. According to an AP story at the time:
[D]ocuments told of slow responses to suicide attempts, physical restraint of children and a report fabricated to cover up one suicide attempt. In one case, the documents said, 12 girls were confined to a single room for 30 days without school because they wouldn't behave. Other reports told of children being restrained against floors and walls by staff and peers and of a broken window that wasn't cleaned, allowing children to sneak pieces of it into their beds. Most of the children who live at The MILL have been abandoned, beaten or neglected, and nearly all suffer from some form of mental illness.
The Daily Herald investigation revealed that Thorud "performed psychological work throughout Illinois government for 25 years, including work with the state police that included courtroom testimony," despite not being licensed as a clinical psychologist in Illinois or any other state.

At the time, Thorud told reporters that he had received a Ph.D. in family therapy and psychology from Columbia Pacific University. Columbia Pacific, labeled by the federal government as a "diploma mill," was a private, unaccredited institution that had been shut down by a California judge for, among other things, issuing diplomas via the mail and Internet without meeting the appropriate requirements, according to the Daily Herald expose.

Despite Thorud's lack of licensure, I found an appellate case in which his juvenile psychological evaluation was used as evidence against a man at a later sexually violent predator commitment proceeding. In that appellate opinion, Illinois v. William J. Stevens, Thorud is referred to by the title of “Doctor.”

All of this is irrelevant to the admissibility of the audiotaped statements, say prosecutors in Dugan's murder trial.

News coverage does not explain how the tapes got into the government's hands in the first place or whether their admission might be precluded by statutes protecting research confidentiality.

Sources:

" 'Dr. Bob' defends himself, credentials," by Dave Orrick,
Chicago Daily Herald, August 12, 2004

"Head of youth home replaced," by Dave Orrick, Chicago Daily Herald, September 11, 2004

"Rockford youth center faces uncertain future amid DCFS probe," Associated Press, September 20, 2004

"Dugan defense attacks expert; Psychologist's troubles could defuse evidence," by Christy Gutowski, Daily Herald, February 5, 2008

Hat tip: Ken Pope

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