Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.
A devastating event a few years ago put Hayley Lanae Worrell on the path to Arizona State University, where she will graduate with honors next week.
“In July of 2019, I walked out of a courtroom after my husband was wrongly convicted and sentenced to 12 years in the Arizona Department of Corrections. From that moment on, I knew that I could either lay on the couch and feel bad for myself and my family, and completely out of control and powerless, or I could fight to get some of the power and control back that had been stolen from me and do something about it,” Worrell said.
“I decided I would get my associate’s degree in paralegal studies and then transfer to ASU to do justice studies in preparation for law school. I thought both of those degree pathways would prepare me best for law school and would be information that I was interested in.”
Worrell did just what she set out to do. She completed a bachelor’s degree in justice studies in the ASU School of Social Transformation with honors from Barrett, The Honors College and will enter the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law next fall. She hopes to intern with the Innocence Clinic while in law school.
While at ASU, she worked with a local nonprofit called Arizonans for Transparency and Accountability in Corrections (ATAC), which supports legislation to create transparency and accountability in the Arizona Department of Corrections.
She completed an honors thesis titled “The Reid Method Interrogation Tactics and Their Link to False Confessions: A Research Study on Why the Reid Method Should be Repealed and Replaced.”
The Reid Method of interrogation involves an accusatory process, in which the investigator tells the suspect that the results of the investigation clearly indicate that they did commit the crime in question.
She also was part of Barrett Honors College’s Project Excellence, a partnership between the honors college and the ASU law school that allowed her to take a law course as an undergraduate.
As Worrell prepares to graduate, we asked her to reflect on her undergraduate experience at ASU. Here’s what she had to say.
Question: You were in Barrett’s Project Excellence. How did you decide to participate in this program? How did this enhance your time at ASU?
Answer: I had always been interested in participating in Barrett Honors College, specifically because of Project Excellence. Not only have I always excelled in programs that challenged me, but I went back to school specifically with the intent of going to law school. The honors program gave me the opportunity to advance my critical thinking skills, which I will use religiously throughout law school. It also gave me the opportunity to make connections with other students. With these opportunities, I excelled at ASU, I was prepared for my LSAT and law school. I was able to present myself as a well-qualified candidate when I applied for law school.
Q: What is an interesting moment, story or accomplishment in your ASU career?
A: My biggest accomplishment and proudest moment at ASU has been the completion of my honors thesis project and being able to present it at the Celebrating Honors Symposium of Research and Creative Projects. I worked so incredibly hard on my thesis and was able to present something I am passionate about to others who were interested in my story. Through the symposium, I was able to educate others who had never heard of false confessions or were unaware about police interrogation tactics and how psychologically coercive they are. It is something that hits home to me, and it was the greatest accomplishment to be able to educate others about something that is so close and personal to me.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: Something that I have learned while at ASU that has changed my perspective were the skills I learned throughout my honors class The History of Ideas with Professor Robert Niebuhr, Honors Faculty Fellow in Barrett Honors College. I learned and developed critical thinking skills that have been extremely helpful for the law course I have been taking through Project Excellence. It was a great perspective change on how to read through things. I had been reading through material for a whole degree-and-a-half and not really retaining or thinking about the information I was learning. Now when I read something, I critically think about what I am reading and ask myself questions as I am reading to think about later. It has helped tremendously as I have finished my studies and am moving on to law school.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I chose ASU for two main reasons. One, for Barrett Honors College and the Project Excellence program. I was thrilled to hear about the possibility of being able to take a law class earlier so I could get a taste of what law school would be like. Two, I knew that I wanted to attend the law school that held the Arizona Justice Project and offered internship programs through it. That being said, I decided to stick with ASU all the way from undergraduate to graduate school so that it was a smooth transition.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Professor Robert Niebuhr, who was my History of Ideas professor and my thesis director, has definitely taught me the most important lesson while at ASU. I did not have very good critical reading skills until History of Ideas, and through Professor Niebuhr’s teaching style, I was able to learn that you can critically think about anything you read, even if you are not completely interested in the topic. Everything that I read while in History of Ideas, I had never heard of, and some of it I could have gone without reading. However, I read (the texts) and I understood them, which was really unusual for me. Typically, I would read something that I was not interested in and would not take anything out of it. But now, I am able to read articles and books and get the most information out of them as I can.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: There is a lot of advice I could give for those still in school; however, I believe the most important piece of advice I have is to find what you are passionate about and everything will be so much easier to accomplish. When a degree path means more to you than just simply getting a degree and gaining a higher-paying job, it does not feel like work. It is hard work still, but it is hard work that is worth it. It keeps you going and keeps you looking toward the future. It helps you through the late nights reading and studying for a test, and it helps you look past any small failures on assignments or projects, and allows you to keep going and do better next time.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: When I was taking my Project Excellence course in person at the law school on the downtown campus, my favorite spot was outdoors at one of the many tables surrounding the law school. Being outdoors allowed for my mind to comprehend the information I was learning better. Fresh air is definitely the best way to let all of the information sink in.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: This is a difficult question. Over the last couple of years, I have come to know many different problems within our system that need replacing or rethinking. All of them, in my mind, seem equally important. However, I think that I would first tackle reforming the police and how they operate. Specifically, I would repeal and replace the Reid Method interrogation trainings with PEACE trainings and implement teaching seminars for prosecutors, judges, defense counsels and officers on false confessions and how they occur. With this, I would make sure that reliability hearings would be implemented any time a confession was present within a case so that the judges could review the tapes and make sure that psychological coercion was not present throughout the interviews. If there were red flags present during interrogations, judges would be encouraged to suppress those confessions so that false confessions would not be heard by a jury or the trier of fact when deciding if someone was guilty or innocent.
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