The Reporter | 2006 | Eye On Crime
By Brian Hamlin Senior Staff Writer
Private detective Eugene Borghello says he’s learned one very important lesson as a criminal defense investigator – there’s always more than one side to a story. A former police officer who once assumed that the great majority of suspects were liars. Borghello has developed a broader outlook as a private investigator. “The one thing that stands out the most is that, when you’re a cop. you’re always looking at the suspect as a liar.” Borghello recalled. “As a defense investigator, I’ve learned that victims and witnesses may lie. too.” Borghello. who once worked for the San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department as well as the Hayward. Broadmoor and Los Altos police departments, now runs the Fairfield based Special Investigations Group. Inc. a close knit team of investigators who work almost exclusively for criminal defense attorneys, With investigators Ron Palmer and Him Doss. investigative assistant Nick Russo and secretary daughter Justine Borghello. the firm handles about 750 cases a year ranging from drunken driving cases to homicides.
They’re searching for evidence law enforcement may have over-looked. witnesses who didn’t immediately come forward, inconsistencies in witness statements and, of course, the aforementioned lies. “A big part of the job is just looking at the credibility of the witnesses. their perceptions, what they were thinking.” Borghello explained. “Just because a witness tells you some-thing. that doesn’t necessarily mean it happened.” A witness might not be lying about what he or she recalled train a crime scene, but perceptions change over time. Stress can be a factor, too. Things look different when you’re staring down the barrel of a gun. The job can get considerably more complicated when a witness recants his statement and admits that he wasn’t telling the truth in the first place. Now he’s an admitted liar. but is he telling the truth about lying or lying about telling the truth? Defense investigation isn’t the easiest nor the most popular of jobs. “A lot of what we do is door-to-door canvassing and we’re met with hostility when we knock on the door and say we’re working for the defense.” Borghello said. “They want to know ‘How can you work for the guilty?’ I try to remind them that a person is innocent until proven guilty.”
The investigators also are at some-what of a disadvantage because they’re not cops. “Law enforcement has the power of authority. All we have is the power of persuasion. We can’t force people to talk to us,” Borghello added. “Just leaving your business card isn’t good enough.” And reluctant witnesses aren’t the only obstacles that the investigators routinely encounter. “Sometimes we wind up asking ourselves is there anyone here who doesn’t do meth? is there anyone here who doesn’t have a pit bull in their yard?” Borghello quipped. A lot of the defense investigators’ work revolves around finding “the unknown witness.” a person who may have seen something, or heard some-thing, or seen someone else see some-thing that has not yet turned up in the police investigation of a crime. “Sometimes it isn’t someone who saw what happened, but someone who can point you in the right direction toward someone who did. Borghello said Strong ethics are absolutely necessary to the organization, the investigator added. “We abide by the law, we don’t mislead people.” he said. “As defense investigators. we try to balance the scales of justice.”