Sociology Professor Featured In TV Movie 'Forgotten Sins'

An ABC-TV movie Thursday, March 7, exploring the concept of recalled memory features the work of sociology professor Richard Ofshe protrayed by actor William Devane.

Ofshe, an expert in recovered memory and false confession, has nothing but praise for the work of Devane and the show "Forgotten Sins." "The movie is terrific," he said.

In the Bay Area, the movie airs at 9 p.m. on Channel 7. It co-stars John Shea and Bess Armstrong.

The dramatization is based on a true story, but everyone's name but Ofshe's is changed. "I had enough input that we kept it realistic," said Ofshe, who gets a "production consultant" credit.

Although ABC only acknowledges that the story is "based on published accounts, police records...and court documents," Ofshe said the story is based on the Olympia, Wash., case of Paul Ingram, a respected deputy sheriff who is accused by his daughters of sexual assault.

Ingram, who initially denied the charges, eventually admitted not only to crimes against his daughters but to a series of bizarre accounts of abuses and satanic horrors.

All of this came about, said Ofshe, after "the misuse of influence by interrogators" that "recovered" false memories.

In the film, Ofshe is called in by prosecutors when things began to grow very odd and they needed a solid, reliable expert to verify it all. But that backfires.

Devane as Dr. Ofshe "comes in and untangles the whole thing. It is amazing a network would have the guts to show this," said the real professor.

At one point, the Ofshe character is shown at a college campus but it doesn't resemble Berkeley and, in fact, Berkeley is never mentioned in the movie.

In the real case, Ofshe said the evidence is clear that Ingram did not do any of the hateful things he now thinks he did, but by pleading guilty he was sentenced to 20 years in prison without a trial.

A great deal of Ofshe's current work is in the area of false confessions, and he frequently testifies in trials across the country.

"False confession ranks third after perjury and eyewitness error as a cause of wrongful convictions in American homicide cases," Ofshe said in an extensive profile by the New York Times Magazine last summer.

The Thursday movie is the second time Ofshe's work has been dramatized. The first movie was based on his Pulitzer Prize winning work with editors of the Point Reyes Light exposing the abusive goings-on at the Marin-based Synanon Foundation.

A social psychologist who has been a member of the Berkeley faculty since 1967, Ofshe's lastest book is "Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy and Sexual Hysteria," co-authored with Ethan Watters.


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