faults of human memory a new focus

The faults of human memory and the state of mind of Democratic insider Tim Mapes after he was forced to resign in 2018 were the focus of Mapes’ perjury trial Tuesday as his defense team tried to attack allegations that he lied before a grand jury to protect his longtime boss, House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Mapes’ defense team is pushing the argument that he was truthful in the grand jury but just couldn’t remember answers to the questions he was asked due to the stress-filled, intimidating nature of the grand jury setting in November 2021.

Dawn McBride, a psychology professor at Illinois State University who specializes in human memory, testified that certain levels of stress could block out the ability to recall different moments — an attempt by Mapes’ attorneys to show even the memory of a notoriously detail-driven and demanding person like him was not infallible.

McBride, who did not examine or interview Mapes as part of her testimony, also told the jury that people who are “detail-oriented” don’t necessarily have good long-term memories.

“They tend to have a good working memory,” she says.

On cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane MacArthur repeatedly pointed out that McBride had no specific knowledge of Mapes’ case or his testimony before the grand jury.

“You don’t know whether Tim Mapes had a motive to lie?” MacArthur asked.

McBride replied, “No, my expertise is in human memory.”

Asked if someone could “fake memory loss,” McBride said they could, “if they just say they don’t remember.”

Mapes’ wife, Bronwyn Rains, also testified Tuesday that she saw “massive changes” in her husband after Madigan “ejected” him from his organization on June 6, 2018, the day a staffer accused him of sexual harassment and fostering a “culture of sexism,, harassment and bullying that creates an extremely difficult working environment.”

Mapes denied the allegations.

“He spent all of his time in our furnished basement sitting in the dark,” Rains said of her husband. “He was very depressed, he was in a dark place. I was working during the day, so when I would come home he was still in the same position…in the dark basement as when I left.”

She urged him to take a job outside of his comfort zone, saying he then filled gas tanks and serviced UPS trucks at night as well as transported barge workers to and from their jobs. She also said he set up a consulting business, though it had only one client.

But MacArthur asked Rains whether she knew that Mapes had detailed conversations with Madigan’s political aides during that time, and Rains said she was unaware of discussions and meetings he had.

Under MacArthur’s questioning, Rains also acknowledged that she traveled to Ireland, Maine and Mexico with Mapes after he was ousted from the Madigan organization.

“He didn’t stay in his hotel room on those trips, did he?” MacArthur asked. “He was out and about?”

“With me on those trips, yes,” Rains replied.

The defense also called Emily Wurth, the former chief financial officer of the Madigan-controlled Democratic Party of Illinois, who reinforced the idea that Mapes was a focused boss but also very “literal” in his interpretation of questions, which sometimes led to odd answers.

“Tim is both very demanding but also really an incredible boss to have, because he is incredibly supportive of your work,” said Wurth, who left state Democratic Party in 2019 and now owns her own private consulting company. “He was meticulous he was thorough, he could be short if you were not paying attention correctly. He could also be very funny.”

Wurth acknowledged that she stayed in touch with Mapes following his departure, partly for professional reasons to help her “pick up the pieces” during a wild election year.

Another part of it was also very personal, she said.

“I was worried about Tim. It was a very abrupt departure,” Wurth testified. “For me it was very traumatic. I was worried that about his mental health, because mine wasn’t good.”

Prosecutors will get a chance to cross-examine Wurth after a lunch break Tuesday.

Mapes, 68, of Springfield, is charged with perjury and attempted obstruction of justice, accused in an indictment of lying in answers to seven questions during his appearance before the grand jury investigating Madigan and his vaunted political operation.

He faces up to 20 years in prison on the obstruction count, while the perjury charges carry up to five years behind bars.

Over eight days of testimony, prosecutors presented 15 witnesses and dozens of wiretapped phone conversations, emails and other documents in an effort to prove that Mapes was lying when he said he was unaware that Michael McClain, a longtime confidant of Madigan’s, was doing sensitive “assignments” for the speaker even after McClain’s retirement from lobbying in 2016.

The prosecution’s case has also included the audio of Mapes’ entire grand jury testimony, offering a rare glimpse into a secretive process and illuminating how big-time political corruption investigations play out behind the scenes.

Mapes, who served for more than 25 years as Madigan’s chief of staff as well as stints as executive director of the state Democratic Party and the clerk of the House, has denied making any false statements.

His attorneys have argued that he did his “level best” to provide truthful answers. They also accused prosecutors of asking open-ended questions and failing to provide Mapes with any corroborating materials that might refresh his recollection of years-old conversations.

The defense has said they want to call Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu, who conducted the questioning of Mapes at the grand jury, as well as former FBI supervisor Ted McNamara, who questioned McClain about an unrelated investigation in 2016.

Mapes, meanwhile, has not said whether he will testify, though it’s considered a long shot given his previous track record and the general risks involved.

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