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NONFICTION

WITNESS FOR THE DEFENSE by Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham (St. Martin’s: $19.95; 304 pp.). “Do you have no morals, no conscience?” psychologist Elizabeth Loftus is accustomed to being asked. When we learn that she is an expert witness who has used her research into the fallibility of memory to defend such clients as serial killer Ted Bundy and the McMartin teachers, we are inclined to muster the same righteous indignation. “Witness for the Defense,” though, reminds us that distinctions between criminals and the innocent are not as clear in the courtroom as they are in true-crime books. Loftus shows how easily our memory can be distorted by a prosecutor’s suggestions and by a hunger for revenge, which often generates a momentum that not even the suspect’s innocence can stop. Ultimately, though, Loftus’ reasoning is too inconsistent to convince us that her testimony on behalf of suspects is helping Justice. For instance, she usually decides whether to testify by asking herself, “What if he’s innocent?” but when one case touches her personally as a Jew--that of the suspected Nazi John Demjanjuk--she turns it down, asking “But what if he’s guilty?”


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