Category Archives: False confessions

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Police insider says a Chicago man’s false confession resulted from beatings inflicted by detectives…

A wrongfully convicted man who was released from prison last month after being locked up 27 years started work Tuesday at his new job as a paralegal

Alaska Newspaper calls for a change in shaken baby investigations…

In Wisconsin, a man convicted of murder seeks new trial on the basis that the murder was actually a suicide…

Georgia Supreme Court says DNA evidence suggesting a different perpetrator  not enough to get man convicted of sexual assault a new trial…

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Governor of California Jerry Brown signs legislation authorizing $698, 400 pay-out to three wrongfully convicted individuals…

A Cook County Judge refused to grant a certificate of innocence to ex-death row inmate despite finding the man actually innocent…

Scott Henson named director of Texas Innocence Project…

In Alaska, the first of the “Fairbanks Four” leaves prison for halfway house…

Louisiana appeals court blocks release of “Angola Three” inmate Albert Woodfox…

Lawyers blame ‘groupthink’ for Sweden’s worst​​ miscarriage of justice

imagesA case that I have highlighted previously here… has been examined by some of the best legal minds in Sweden and they have concluded that there were no ‘systemic’ failures that led to a mental health patient being wrongly convicted of over 30 murders. Instead, they blame a culture of ‘trust’ which meant that critical questions were not asked of investigators and psychiatric personnel involved. There was insufficient scepticism of supposed confessions and no care was taken over the possibility of false memories. While the report seeks to ensure that mistakes are not repeated, ultimately the report leaves all involved individually blameless so no-one has been held to account. This may result in the case rumbling on for some time yet in the Swedish media. Read more here (including a link to the full report)…

Lawyers blame groupthink in Sweden’s worst​​ miscarriage of justice

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Another Success For Knoops Innocence Project in the Netherlands…

From website:

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands decided on Tuesday (26 May 2015) to reopen the case against Martien Hunnik and referred the case to the Court of Appeals for a new trial. Martien Hunnik was convicted in 1984 for killing the Hilversum record label boss, Bart van de Laar, in 1981.

Hunnik was convicted for manslaughter and sentenced to two years imprisonment and “TBR”, a closed treatment facility for mentally ill offenders with diminished criminal responsibility. In the Netherlands, there is a gradual system of accruing criminal responsibility to mentally ill offenders; therefore it is possible to impose both a prison sentence and to order treatment in a mental facility.

Hunnik, who is represented by Mr. Knoops and Ms. Vosman of the Knoops’ Innocence Project, was convicted on the basis of false confessions he made in January 1983 and which he retracted in April of that year. Behavioral research demonstrated that Mr. Hunnik, at the time of his false confessions, had the tendency to confabulate and to distort the facts. Mr. Hunnik himself says he was mentally ill at that time and in search of attention.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

The Innocent Citizen’s Justice System Survival Guide

“Ours is a world in which justice is accidental, and innocence no protection.”     Euripedes, 400 B.C.


I come from a legal family, so even though I did not go into law, I’ve had a closeup view of the justice system my entire life, which is, I think, one of the reasons I decided to devote my post-corporate life to innocence work. I saw too many things happening that were not congruent with my view of what a fair and just system should, and must, be. For the past seven years, I’ve been deeply involved in innocence work, and have become knowledgeable about the details of many, many cases (100’s) of wrongful conviction and wrongful imprisonment. Consequently, I’ve seen many ways in which actually innocent people become tragic victims of what we call “justice.” There are just so many ways the justice system can get it wrong. This has caused me to think about what it is that an innocent person can (and should) do when accusatorially confronted by this thing we call the justice system. [You might want to also read my previous post Why I Think the US Justice System is Broken, and Why It’s Not Getting Fixed.]

If you think being wrongfully charged, indicted, convicted, and imprisoned can’t happen to you, think again. It can happen to anybody. Just ask Debra Milke. The ways this can happen are countless, and despite the system’s best efforts, there are just too many ways the system can possibly get it wrong. I could give you lots of examples, but we won’t try to detail them here – just take a look at the National Registry of Exonerations, and keep in mind these are only the ones that have been so far successfully overturned within the system – there are magnitudes more. This article will try to give you some “suggestions” for what you might do if you find you’re being wrongfully suspected or charged with a crime. For those of you who have had no close interaction with the justice system, you might well think that I’m being radical and that I must come from somewhere in outer space … and you can think that right up until you get scooped into the meat grinder. Let me me just say, “Forewarned is forearmed.”

This article will be in six sections:

I.  Have a Lawyer You Can Call

II. Don’t Talk to the Police

III. The Plea Bargain

IV. Be Ready for Trial

V. Shaken Baby/Child Abuse (Abusive Head Trauma)  [This requires special attention and treatment.]

VI. If You Are Wrongfully Convicted

DISCLAIMER: I am not an attorney, and so cannot give you legal advice. These suggestions are only my personal opinion, and are solely the result of my exposure to the justice system and wrongful convictions over a period of years. They come with no guarantee. Every situation is unique, and you must always exercise your own judgment given the circumstances. They are just intended to get you thinking about how you would handle the situation of being wrongfully accused, and to give you some information about how the system works. I am certain that they cannot cover every possible situation, but hopefully, they will provide an overall, general guide for how you might deal with this. 

Continue reading

Interview With Debra Milke’s Attorney

Here is a 25 minute interview with Debra Milke’s attorney.

It is fascinating and riveting.

And keep in mind, while you watch this, that our justice system did this.

See our previous post on the Milke case here.

And thank you to Camille Tilley for posting this in the comments. I felt it deserved ‘headline’ status.


Juan Rivera to receive $20 million for 20 years of wrongful imprisonment

Juan Rivera, 42, who endured three trials and twenty years of wrongful imprisonment before being exonerated of a vicious crime, has reached a $20 million settlement agreement with Lake County (IL) authorities. His $1 million award for each year in prison will enable him to pursue his education and assist his family, but, as reported in the Chicago Sun-Times (here), Rivera said, “I still would prefer my 20 years back [over] the $20 million.”

The settlement cost will be shared by the county and several municipalities that contributed police work in the investigation of the brutal crime. The largest amount will be paid by the city of Waukegan where the crime occurred.

Rivera was convicted of the 1992 rape and murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker. His conviction was based primarily on a confession that occurred over four days Continue reading

The Debra Milke Lawsuit – A Perspective

Camille Tilley, whose daughter Courtney was wrongfully convicted in Maricopa County, was kind enough to post a link to the lawsuit recently brought by Debra Milke against a number of Phoenex and Maricopa County, AZ officials regarding her wrongful conviction for the murder of her 4 1/2 year-old son. This post was contained in a comment to our recent story about the Debra Milke case.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the lawsuit, I think it deserves some special comment. You can access it directly here:  Debra Milke-lawsuit. It’s very interesting to note that Milke is represented in her suit by the firm of Neufeld Scheck & Brustin. You probably know that Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck are the founders of the original Innocence Project.

I’ve read the suit, and if you think this kind of thing can’t happen to you, you need to read it too. It reads like a bad crime novel, but the really scary part is that it actually happened, and the people who are supposed to be the “good guys” are actually the criminals. Joe or Jane citizen has absolutely no defense against this.

The official misconduct in this case is sordid, stomach turning. Could it possibly be that this case, and this suit, will be the crowbar that finally pries the lid off the slimy justice system snake pit called Maricopa County?

Debra Milke Case — She Remains Free — and IT’S DONE !!

Today, the Arizona Supreme Court refused to grant the prosecution a retrial for Debra Milke. Milke’s conviction had been overturned by the US 9th Circuit for prosecutorial misconduct, and sent back to the Arizona courts.  See the AZ Central story here.

We’ve covered this case extensively. See here, here, here, and here.

And …….. Debra Milke has filed suit against Maricopa County, AZ, the prosecutor (Bill Montgomery), the detective (Armando Saldate), and twelve other officials. See the Courthouse News Service article here.

All I can say is …. YOU GO, GIRL!

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) – A CBS Report: Blaming Melissa

Melissa Calusinski was convicted in 2012 of murdering 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan at a day care center in Lincolnshire, IL by throwing him to the floor.

She “confessed” after a 10-hour interrogation, but has always maintained her innocence.

CBS “48 Hours” will air a report on the case Saturday, Feb. 28 at 10:00 PM EST.  See a preview here.

See the Chicago Tribune story from March, 2012 here.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Christopher Abernathy Exonerated and Freed after 30 Years in Prison

Christopher Abernathy, 48, was released from prison on Wednesday after Cook County (IL) Judge Frank Zelezinski vacated his 1987 conviction for a rape and murder Cook County (IL) officials now acknowledge he did not commit. Abernathy had served nearly 30 years of a life sentence for the crime.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s Conviction Integrity Unit reviewed DNA evidence from the crime, presented by Abernathy’s attorneys, which Continue reading

Constructing Rich FALSE Memories of Committing Crime

We have reported numerous times before about how malleable human memory can be (here and here) and on the dangers of the Reid Technique of interrogation that arise from this (here and here).

On Feb. 3, Mark Godsey posted this article from the LawTimesNews describing the resesarch of Prof. Stephen Porter and Julia Shaw.  The study demonstrated that it is relatively easy to get people to “remember” details of a crime they never committed.

Our sincere thanks to the publisher of the study, SAGE Publications, for allowing us to post a link to the full text of the research article.  The link will be active until March 5, 2015.  See the full text here:  Constructing Rich False Memories of Committing Crime.

This excerpt from the abstract of the article:  “It appears that in the context of a highly suggestive interview, people can quite readily generate rich false memories of committing crime.”  And of course, for the term “highly suggestive interview” we can substitute “Reid Technique.”


New Study Shows Ease of Implanting False Memories…


Researchers are questioning police interviewing techniques after a recent study showed how easy it can be to manipulate people into recalling vivid details of committing a crime they never took part in.

“We were astonished at the rate of false memories of crime that developed. We weren’t anticipating anywhere near this kind of vulnerability in the average person,” says University of British Columbia Prof. Stephen Porter, who undertook a joint study published online recently in Psychological Science with British researcher Julia Shaw.

The pair collected background information on 126 students at the university from their caregivers through a questionnaire. They kept the responses to the questionnaire secret from the participants.

During three 40-minute interviews, the researchers asked the participants to recall two events from the time they were between the ages of 11 and 14. One of the events came from the caregiver questionnaire and involved something that actually happened. The second event, however, was a manufactured story about the participant committing crimes such as assault and theft.

Predictably, the participants quickly recalled the event that did take place and didn’t at first remember the false event. But through some persistent and manipulative techniques, such as the mention of an actual friend and the place where the participants actually lived, the researchers eventually obtained a “full-blown visual memory” of a criminal event that never happened 70 per cent of the time.

“It’s not too difficult, using manipulative tactics that we often see in police investigations, for people to be convinced and to come to recall that they committed a pretty major offence,” says Porter.

“It’s pretty common for police in interviews with suspects to introduce evidence that implicates the guilt of the suspect and sometimes that evidence isn’t true. Sometimes it is true and sometimes it isn’t true. Police are permitted in Canada to use deception when interviewing criminal suspects to a certain extent, but it’s a very common tactic,” he adds.

One of the interviewing methods used by police, known as the Reid technique, has been subject to criticism for its draining impact on suspects who sometimes tell the officers what they want to hear in order to get out of long and gruelling interviews.

According to Porter, the research is another reason to doubt the reliability of the technique and the legitimacy of confessions. “It really suggests that we have to have strict guidelines on what happens in police interviews in terms of the kind of tactics that are being used and we sort of mimicked in our study,” he says.

In fact, 30 per cent of wrongful convictions looked at by the Innocence Project in the United States resulted directly from false confessions, according to Porter.

“It’s not a minor issue but it could be much more problematic than we had any idea about,” he says, adding people induced into creating false memories may continue to believe them and never appeal their conviction.
That’s especially true when the suspect had some type of amnesia due to factors like substance use, he says.

James Lockyer, a founding director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, says he’s surprised by the percentage of participants who recalled false memories but not by the phenomenon itself.

“It certainly happens, particularly in cases where the suspect feels guilty about the situation he or she is being questioned about,” he says.

“It particularly happens in cases like child deaths.”

Lockyer agrees false memories are another aspect of what he calls a dangerous interviewing technique by law enforcement. “It’s another facet of it where if you push someone hard enough — especially if you appeal to their sense of justice, which is a classic example of how police approach these kinds of cases — . . . there is no question that people fall into acknowledging they did things they didn’t do.”

When the students in the study eventually learned one of the two events had never taken place, they were dumbfounded and some even argued with the researchers about the legitimacy of the story, says Porter.

Alan Young, who runs Osgoode Hall Law School’s Innocence Project, says he’s aware of cases in which people deluded themselves into believing they had committed a crime. “We’ve been very aware of this phenomenon at the Innocence Project and somewhat shocked by how cavalier law enforcement is in terms of addressing whether or not they are inducing false or accurate confessions,” he says.

“You have false confessions that are not just people saying something to get out of the room to get a glass of water. You have false confessions in which the person can incorporate the guilt into their very memory and delude themselves into believing they’re guilty,” he adds. “That’s the rarest one. Most people have awareness that they’re not accurately recounting a story.”

The issue of false memories has implications for the law beyond police interviews. The legitimacy of memories can be an issue in cases of historical sexual abuse as well with defendants linking false recollections to therapy sessions.

In a way, that scenario isn’t so different from police interviews, says Porter, who serves as an expert witness in historical sexual abuse cases. “It’s kind of analogous to the police interview where the police investigator has a guilt-presumptive assumption,” he says.

“In many cases where historical abuse memories have been brought into question, the therapist had an assumption that the person must have been abused given their current symptoms even when the client didn’t report and remember any abuse.”

The field of psychology has identified the features of interviews where false memories are likely, he says. They include guided imagery in which interviewers ask their subjects to close their eyes and picture their childhood bedroom where something foul may have happened.

Porter says a potential area of research in the future would look at whether some people are more vulnerable than others when it comes to interviewers inducing them to create false memories.

Update on the National Registry of Exonerations

In case you haven’t been able to check in on the National Registry of Exonerations lately, here’s an excerpt from the most recent data.  Note the total is now up to 1,512, and the trend line is definitely UP.

exon dna non

exon cont fact

exon fact crime

I won’t belabor you by pointing out some of the more obvious observations.  Just a few minutes of study will (should) lead you to some very clear conclusions.

It has been reported that the folks at the Registry are hard at work trying to incorporate the exonerations being generated by the newly formed “conviction integrity units” (CIU’s).  For these cases the prosecutors running the CIU’s may not be very motivated to have their exonerations logged into the Registry.

I can’t gush enough about how critical and important this data is.  It is this kind of HARD DATA that will provide the foundation for much needed and long overdue justice system reform.

Wrongly Convicted NY Man Dies 4 Months After $7.5M Compensation

Dan Gristwood was convicted in 1996 of attempted murder for beating his wife with a hammer.  He signed a confession, that he did not write, after 16 hours of interrogation by the NY State Police.

In 2003, the real attacker, Mastho Davis, came forward and confessed. Gristwood was released in 2005, and ultimately awarded $7.5M for his nine years of wrongful incarceration.

Sadly, on January 3, 2015, four months after receiving payment, Dan Gristwood died from lung cancer.  See the ABC News story here.

The story about the case here is definitely worth a read, and reads like a script for the prototypical coerced confession.

In light of all the recent public – and police – furor about police conduct, and how they relate to the community, and how they should be respected, I can do naught but shake my head.  When the police do stuff like this, how can they claim any high ground in this discussion?  Dan Gristwood, after his release, said he thought the problem was a “few bad apples.”  That may very well be so, but guess what? Those “few” bad apples make the whole barrel stink.  And this problem belongs to the police – not the public.

Weekend Quick Clicks…