Rowan County investigators say they’re reviewing Erica Parsons’ parents’ appearance on the “Dr. Phil” show, including a polygraph expert’s characterization of the father as “strongly deceptive” about the teenager’s disappearance.
The show about Erica’s disappearance was taped last week but broadcast across the nation Tuesday and Wednesday. The polygraph results were presented as the finale to the second part Wednesday.
The show’s expert, Jack Trimarco, a former FBI polygraph examiner, said he asked Sandy Parsons, two questions: Did he deliberately cause Erica’s disappearance, and did he have a plan to cause her disappearance?
“He was what I consider strongly deceptive to both relevant questions,” Trimarco told the host, Dr. Phil McGraw.
“Do you think he knows something he’s not telling us?” Dr. Phil asked.
“He does,” Trimarco responded.
Erica, who has been missing since 2011, is the subject of a widening hunt by investigators from Rowan County, the state and the FBI. In search warrants, investigators say they suspect foul play, and Erica’s parents hired an attorney when they say the questions turned accusatory. No one has been charged in connection with Erica’s disappearance.
Sandy Parsons’ wife, Casey, did not take the polygraph exam because she described herself as being in severe pain. Her attorney says she was hospitalized last week following emergency surgery. Trimarco said he opted not to give her the test because the body’s response to pain can be confused with deception.
Trimarco also said he didn’t ask whether Sandy Parsons had killed Erica because “we don’t know if she is dead, so that would not be a good question.”
The results of polygraph examinations are not admissible in court in North Carolina. And scientists question whether polygraphers can accurately identify liars by interpreting measurements of blood pressure, sweat activity and respiration.
Wednesday’s show aired in Charlotte just hours after search warrants were released showing investigators searched a red storage shed at the home of Sandy Parsons’ parents in China Grove, according to the Observer’s news partner, WCNC. Investigators retrieved vacuum pieces including a filter, a hammer, school records and teeth.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children on Wednesday also released an age-progressed picture of Erica, who was 13 when she was last seen by anyone outside her family.
Rowan County authorities say they are reviewing the Parsonses’ appearance on the show and have received about 100 tips from people who’ve watched them, but a spokesman said “no beneficial information has been received” from the calls.
Casey and Sandy Parsons have said they dropped their daughter off with her biological grandmother, whom they identified as Irene Goodman or “Nan.”
The Parsonses told Dr. Phil that they hadn’t seen Erica, then 13, since leaving the girl with “Nan” in December 2011 at a Mooresville McDonald’s. Police, however, say they haven’t been able to locate “Nan” or determine if she actually exists.
Dr. Phil said it defies common sense that they would leave a girl with someone, have no contact for almost two years, and never report her missing.
Perhaps due to a family dispute, Erica’s adoptive brother James filed a missing person’s report on July 30.
The Parsonses’ veracity is at issue in the case, and a Michigan woman who hired Casey Parsons to be a surrogate mother in 2002 told Dr. Phil that she distrusts Casey.
The woman, whose identity was masked on the show, said that Casey Parsons claimed she had had a miscarriage after a few weeks of pregnancy. Then about six months after she had supposedly lost the baby, the Michigan woman found out Casey Parsons was still carrying the child.
The woman said she believes Casey Parsons was taking money from two other couples for the child.
A healthy baby boy was born and turned over to the couple, the woman said. But the woman told Dr. Phil she believes Casey Parsons only went through with the agreement because the couple threatened legal action.
Casey Parsons said her sister caused the controversy by calling the intended parents and saying Casey Parsons was trying to sell their baby.
She also told Dr. Phil that the Michigan woman had wanted Casey to abort the pregnancy because she thought she was carrying a girl; the couple wanted a boy. The Michigan woman said that was “a complete lie.”
The sister involved was the same relative who Erica lived with for eight months at one point.
Search warrants say Erica left the Parsonses home after Casey Parsons “lost control and beat her.”
Erica was returned to the Parsonses’ home because they were afraid of losing the payments they received from the state for Erica’s care, search warrants say. The payments could total at least $623 a month.
A risky choice?
It’s unclear why the Parsonses agreed to appear on the “Dr. Phil” show.
Doing so presents risks if Casey or Sandy Parsons is ever charged in the case, according to defense attorneys reached by the Observer. And statements the couple made on television shows have already been used as probable cause in search warrants.
Many defendants choose not to take the witness stand, said George Laughrun, a Charlotte defense attorney. But the Parsonses have already spoken about the case – and faced probing questions – on a nationally televised show.
“The (District Attorney) in Salisbury is probably going to be there with every VCR he can find, recording every little sound bite they make,” Laughrun said.
A spokesman for the “Dr. Phil” show said the show doesn’t pay for guests to appear and that the Parsonses didn’t ask to be compensated.
But Batt Humphreys, former executive producer for “The Early Show” on CBS, said talk shows can dangle incentives such as first-class flights, upscale hotels and a large meal budget to attract guests.
“There can be a ‘wow’ factor for a couple like this,” Humphreys said. “… The producers know what they’re doing, and they know how to build confidence.
“If they think that they’re going on ‘Dr. Phil’ and Dr. Phil is going to help them and they get all these goodies thrown in, that’s pretty good.”
On air, Dr. Phil said the couple told him they were motivated by their desires to tell their side of the story and to help find Erica.
After Sandy Parson’s polygraph test was done, the “Dr. Phil” show invited the couple back on the show to see the results.
Their attorney, Carlyle Sherrill, said they “were in a hurry to get back to North Carolina.”
Sherrill appeared on the show via satellite feed when the polygraph results were revealed. The Parsonses did not.
Dr. Phil said his show offered to have the Parsonses return or appear by a satellite feed, but they refused. Staff writer Ronnie Glassberg contributed.
Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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