Study Reveals How Innocent Defendants Confess

I read a very interesting article by John Schwartz in the September 14, 2010 edition of the New York Times. In a study by a Brandon Garrett, a Virgina Law School professor, Mr. Garrett found that since 1976, more than 40 innocent defendants have confessed to crimes they did not commit due to intensive questioning by police using their mental impairments, or youth against them. The highlighted story in the article was that of Eddie Lowery, who confessed to a rape that he did not commit and served a ten year sentence before he was paroled in 1991. The police used a tactic known as contamination in which they introduce important facts about the case to the defendant during the interrogation, which could only be known by someone who committed the crime–in order to make the confession seem more reliable.

In Mr. Lowery’s case, the jury heard the fact that the rapist struck the victim in the head with the handle of a silver knife he found in the house, which the prosecution asserted was a detail Lowery never would have known if he was not the right defendant. The police would correct Mr. Lowery when questioning him, such as telling him that he came through the back door when Lowery first informed them that he “kicked in the front door.” According to Mr. Lowery, “they fed me the answers.”

Mr. Lowery was questioned for seven hours, with the police claiming from the beginning that he had committed the rape. He even took and passed a lie detector test, but the police lied to him and stated that he had failed the test.The study showed that of the exonerated defendants, more than half of them were mentally disabled, under the age of 18, or both. None of the defendants had a lawyer present while they were being questioned, almost all were subjected to high pressure interrogations, and many were taken to the crime scene.

Amazingly, eight of the defendants in the study were cleared by DNA evidence prior to trial, but were still convicted. In the case of Jeffry Deskovic, who languished for 16 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit in Poughkeepsie, prosecutors convinced a jury to overlook DNA evidence by getting the jury to focus on Mr. Deskovic’s detailed confession in order to convict him.

Fortunately, Mr. Lowery is now a free man and lives in suburban Kansas City. He received a $7.5 million settlement and apologies from the Riley County, Kansas officials who interrogated him.


If you or a loved one is charged with any criminal offense or a traffic infraction, contact the Westchester County Criminal Defense Lawyers at The Law Office of Mark A. Siesel online or toll free at 888-761-7633 for a free consultation to discuss your legal rights and options.

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