A local scientist believes a look inside the brain can help determine if a man accused of murder is lying.
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The work of a UC San Diego scientist has become front and center ahead of a high-profile murder trial.
In 2006, Army Ranger Michael McQueen was found dead shot in the head in his Maryland apartment.
His roommate, fellow Army Ranger Gary Smith, is about to be retried for murder. Smith said he did not do it, and his lawyers believe they can prove he is telling the truth.
"This is not science fiction," said UCSD neuroscientist Frank Haist.
Haist said the science of lie detection through brain imaging has been studied for a decade. He said it boils down to this: "We believe lying is harder to do, then tell the truth."
Haist said research using a special MRI has proven that brain activity flares up in certain parts of the brain during lies as people think about how and why they are lying.
He believes the method is more accurate than conventional lie detectors, which are inadmissible in court.
Recently, Smith was given the MRI test and Haist was asked to evaluate the results. During the MRI, Smith was asked to lie about his military background. The scan showed a familiar pattern of elevated brain activity tied to deception.
But when Smith was asked if he killed his roommate, he answered no, and there was very little extra brain activity.
While the trial judge called the brain images fascinating, he tossed out the tests.
Critics point out all the studies have been done in lab settings.
"We really don't have enough information now," said Haist.
He said more data is needed, including studies to see if people can outwit the test.
"We are getting much closer to determining when somebody is lying and when somebody is not lying," said Haist.
This is one of the first cases where the brain imaging evidence has been put to the test.
Haist believes if additional studies prove it is more reliable than conventional lie detectors, it will eventually be allowed in the courts.
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