Mark Hofmann, Allan B. Hadfield and Arden Brett Bullock - are innocent?

The answer: All three, at least if the results of Dr. David Raskin's high-tech lie detector are taken as authoritative.Of course, none of the three fared as well in the courts. Hofmann admitted planting the pipe bombs that killed two people in 1985, while jurors found Hadfield and Bullock guilty of sexually abusing children.

Those conflicting results have forced Raskin, a University of Utah psychologist and perhaps the world's most renowned expert on polygraphs, to retrench a bit. He admits Hofmann fooled him and his machines, but he maintains Hofmann is the exception to the otherwise sound rule that truthfulness can be measured scientifically.

What's more, he is adamant about the results of the tests he performed on Hadfield and Bullock. Both, he believes, were clearly truthful when they responded negatively to very explicit questions about alleged sexual conduct with young children.

"Hadfield scored a plus-12," Raskin said. "A plus-6 is truthful. Bullock did almost as well; he scored a plus-11."

But Raskin's vote of confidence in Hadfield and Bullock go beyond the results of his test. Raskin has joined critics who say the allegations - especially the Hadfield case with the suggestion of a child sex-abuse "ring" in Lehi - are all the product of overly imaginative therapists who brainwashed the children into concocting the fantastic scenarios.

"I have yet to see a documented case of ritualistic child abuse of this type," Raskin said. "The quality of the professional expertise (on those cases) is shocking."

Other mental health professionals find Raskin's conclusions equally shocking. They insist the scientist should stick to his area of expertise - which they maintain isn't the treatment of sexually abused children.

These critics point out Raskin is an experimental psychologist. He is not licensed in Utah as a clinical psychologist, nor is he listed in the National Registry of Health Service Providers in Psychology. In short, this means by law he cannot diagnose and treat patients. He can do research.

And almost no one denies he does that well.

Raskin is one of the world's foremost polygraphers, and in addition to his university assignments, he is frequently asked to testify at criminal trials around the country. His subjects have included Melvin Dummar, the Utahn who claimed he was named in Howard Hughes' will; Patty Hearst, the heiress who claimed she was brainwashed into becoming a terrorist; and John De Lorean, the auto manufacturer who was charged with cocaine trafficking. All of them, according to Raskin, were telling the truth.

Nonetheless, some feel that what he does has no place in the courtroom or anywhere else in the legal system.

"Polygraphs are snake oil," said Associate Deputy Attorney General Paul M. Warner. "It would be nice to have a machine that tells you if a person is lying, but it just doesn't work that way. The best method ever devised for getting at the truth is the (legal) adversary system."

But what if the polygrapher is the esteemed Raskin?

"All I have to say about David Raskin is he cleared Mark Hofmann," Warner continued. "That says it all."

In fact, Raskin's tests have no direct bearing on any of the three cases. Although some judges around the country have allowed Raskin to testify, the judge in Hadfield's case refused to admit the polygraph tests at trial, while Bullock's attorney chose not to use the results.

Typically, polygraph results are used by defense attorneys only as an effort to persuade prosecutors not to bring charges. In fact, Hadfield's attorney, Bradley P. Rich, did bring the polygraph results to the attention of prosecutors. But he didn't push it too hard because of the negative associations with Hofmann, another of Rich's clients.

"There was the unfortunate association with the Hofmann fiasco," Rich said. "In the end, I thought we could win the case without a polygraph."

Nonetheless, Rich believes in Raskin and in the importance of polygraphs. "Polygraphs should be used outside the courtroom to cut through all the bull," he said.

Of the Hofmann episode, Rich maintains Raskin was, along with many others, "hoodwinked by a professional."

"Raskin has incredible credentials," Rich said. "He's done a ton of very credible work."

Others remain unconvinced. As a former defense attorney, Warner said he knows how polygraphs can be twisted to meet the needs of a defendant.

"As a defense attorney, you shop around," he said. "If one polygrapher says your client is lying, you keep looking until you find one who will test him as being truthful."

Warner also said there are ways to phrase a question so that it seems to go to the heart of the matter, but in fact gives an offender just enough psychological wiggle room to, in effect, lie. He said, for example, that asking a known sex offender whether he "raped" a victim could yield a truthful response because the offender may have deemed the woman willing and thus did not consider the sex act to be rape.

Prosecutors also believe a more fundamental problem goes beyond Mark Hofmann or general problems with polygraph tests. Assistant Attorney General Robert N. Parrish, who prosecuted Hadfield, said there is evidence that child molesters are uniquely suited for beating a polygraph. The reason: Child sex abusers frequently don't think they are harming the children, so they don't think they're guilty of a crime.

Dr. Thomas G. Harrison, clinical director of Psychotherapy Associates, who has treated more than 300 perpetrators, said he knows from firsthand experience that sex offenders can fool the lie detector test. Many, he said, have bragged to him during therapy about lying and beating the system.

How does it happen? Harrison said the perpetrators have learned the process of what he terms "splitting." He uses a simple example of how a mother or father use this process at home. He said a parent could be very angry at his children and in fact wants to clobber them. The telephone rings and the parent's mood changes dramatically. He cheerfully says, "Hello," and proceeds to be very congenial to the caller. Then immediately upon hanging up, the anger returns; the feeling that he cannot control the anger persists.

Perpetrators who are well-versed in this technique are able to disassociate from the sexually abusive behavior, Harrison believes. "They can take the test, lie and not even flinch," he said.

A University of Utah psychiatrist, who asked that his name not be used, agreed polygraphs are problematic. He said the polygraph test measures autonomic response to anxiety. A non-anxious criminal is not likely to produce a positive response. He could do terrible things and not worry about them, and that would reflect in the test. Others can beat the test by using hypnosis, transcendental meditation or deep muscle relaxation methods.

At the heart of the controversy is the fundamental premise of polygraphs - whether measures of physiological responses can actually assess truthfulness and deception. In recent years, more judges have opted to allow polygraph evidence at trial, believing lie detectors can play a role. But members of the American Psychological Association in 1985 agreed polygraphs should be kept in the laboratory. Congress has evinced similar skepticism. In fact, on June 1 the House of Representatives passed a bill that bans lie detector tests by private-sector employers. Previously Congress restricted the scope of polygraphs in the federal government.

But Raskin remains a devout believer in polygraphs. Although he acknowledges there is a built-in error rate as high as 10 percent, he believes that error factor is reasonable. He said polygraphers are held to a higher standard than therapists interviewing allegedly sexually abused children.

"What people expect from a polygraph they don't expect from anyone else," Raskin said.

He also said there is simply no evidence that child molesters are any more adept at beating polygraphs than anyone else.

"People beat the test," Raskin acknowledged. "There's an inherent error rate of 5-10 percent. We don't know how they do it. But there is absolutely no evidence sexual abusers have any special talent."

Polygraphs, he said, measure physiological manifestations of the anxiety a person feels when he or she is lying. These responses are nearly impossible to control, he argues, unless one happens to be a Mark Hofmann, who trained himself to lie through years of self-hypnosis and biofeedback. In fact, Raskin dismisses Hofmann as a unique aberration.

"How many people are there like Mark Hofmann?"