Lisa Black and Steve Mills of the Chicago Tribune have written an excellent piece about false confessions. False confessions are not so uncommon as you would think. Why would a parent confess to raping their own three-year old or murdering their own grandmother? If you really are not guilty, nothing in the world could make you say differently! Alas, you are wrong. Consider these cases.
Fox, Hobbs III, Rivera and Lapointe.
After 14 hours of interrogation in a small, windowless room, Kevin Fox simply gave up. He knew he hadn’t sexually assaulted or murdered his 3-year-old daughter, but police had rejected his requests for a lawyer and told him they would arrange for inmates to rape him in jail, according to court records.
The distraught father later testified that detectives also screamed at him, showed him a picture of his daughter, bound and gagged with duct tape, and told him that his wife was planning to divorce him, the records show.
Fox finally agreed to a detective’s hypothetical account of how his daughter, Riley, died in an accident, thinking investigators would realize that the phony details didn’t match up with the evidence, his lawyer said. Instead, he remained in Will County jail for 8 months, released only after DNA evidence excluded him as a suspect. In May, Scott Eby was charged with the crime.
What could be a similar story is now unfolding in Lake County, where Jerry Hobbs III, 39, is accused of murdering his 8-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old friend. Hobbs, who had a criminal record, has been in jail five years, in large part because of a confession that emerged after hours of high-pressure interrogation. Prosecutors planned to seek the death penalty in his October trial, even though his DNA did not match semen found on his daughter’s body.
Authorities recently matched the DNA with another man accused of rape and robbery in Arlington, VA, offering Hobbs a chance at exoneration and once again raising the possibility that police coerced a suspect to falsely confess.
Why did these fathers confess to the unthinkable?
“The interrogation itself is stressful enough to get innocent people to confess,” said Saul Kassin, a psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “But add to that a layer of grief and shock and perhaps even some guilt — ‘I should have been there’ — and then that the parent is trying like hell to be cooperative because they want the murder of their child solved.”
“I think what we are seeing now is there has become an over-dependence on confessions,” said Lawrence Marshall, who is appealing the case of Juan Rivera of Waukegan, who in May 2009 was convicted for the third time of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl despite DNA evidence that excluded him. Lake County prosecutors suggested the girl was sexually active to undercut the DNA. Marshall is a Stanford University law professor who co-founded Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions.
Dr. Robert Galatzer-Levy, a psychiatrist on the faculty of the University of Chicago and the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, said interrogations are designed “not simply to get information,” as the police often portray them. Instead, he said, interrogations are “well-thought-through psychological manipulations to get a confession.”
Now look at the case of Richard Lapointe. On July 4, 1989, Lapointe went to police headquarters as requested by police to help in his wife’s grandmother’s murder case. There, he waived his Miranda Rights and was accused of murdering Mrs. Bernice Martin. Without legal counsel, Detectives Paul Lombardo and others interrogated this retarded man for 9½ hours. There are no electronic recordings of these 9½ hours. We do have notes made by police during these hours.
Here are the confessions Lapointe made. In the court documents, you will find the narrative explanations but for immediate overview, I made the following:
The text in
|Cursive||the original text, literally taken from court documents and evidence|
|Bold||inconsistencies with timelines, crime scene, autopsy, etc|
Confession I (signed)
On March 8, 1987, I was responsible for Bernice Martin’s death and it was an accident. My mind went blank.
Confession II (signed)
I, Richard A. Lapointe, do hereby give the following statement to Detective Paul R. Lombardo of my own free will, free of any threats or promises; that on March 8, 1987, I went to visit Bernice Martin with my wife and son. We left the apartment in the late afternoon and went home. I left my home sometime after that to take the dog for a walk. I was at Bernice’s apartment with the dog. (Note that police did not find his dog there).
We were both there together and the time was right. I probably made a pass at her and she said no. So I hit her and I strangled her. (See notes below). If the evidence shows I was there, and that I killed her, then I killed her, but I don’t remember being there. I made a pass at Bernice because she was a nice person and I thought that I could get somewhere with her. She was like a grandmother to me that I never had.
Confession III (signed)
After being home awhile I left to walk the dog. I then walked back up to Bernice’s apartment (Remember that the police found Lapointe at King’s without a dog. They did not find a dog inside Mrs. Martin’s apartment or anywhere else) and she invited me in. We each had a cup of coffee, I think Bernice had tea and I sat on the couch. I remember having my matches and my smoking pipe in my jacket pocket.
After my coffee I went into the bathroom. When I came out Bernice was in the bedroom combing her hair. She was wearing a pink house coat type of outer wear with no bra. (Police did not find a pink house coat at the crime scene). I could see her breasts when she bent over. (Mrs. Martin was 88, known for her modesty, and was always properly dressed). I grabbed her with my hand around her waist area. When I did that she pushed me. I threw her on the bed and took off her underwear because I wanted to have intercourse with her (Mrs. Martin was wearing a blouse that was cut open!). I got my penis inside her for a few strokes and then pulled out and masturbated (Mrs. Martin was raped with a blunt object). I did cum on the bed spread when I was finished. I had already thrown her underwear on the right side of the bed (So after two years, he remembers this detail, or maybe he was coached or shown a crime scene photo?).
After the sex she said she was going to tell my wife Karen. I then went to the kitchen and got a steak knife with a hard plastic brown handle and stabbed Bernice in the stomach while she was laying on the couch. (There was no forensic evidence she was stabbed while on the couch. She was stabbed on the bed). The rest of the incident I do not recall although I admit to having strangled her. (He left out the three fires he supposedly set. Lapointe later explained that he strangled Mrs. Martin with his bare hands. The coroner’s report however, stated that Mrs. Martin suffered a compression strangulation caused by pressure with a blunt object to the right side of her neck. There were no contusions on the opposite sides of the neck to support manual strangulation. The police never checked the apartment for blunt objects that could have been used to either rape and/or strangle Mrs. Martin.)
Confession IV (Not signed, text was found in Det. Lombardo’s notebook)
I probably made a pass at her and she said no. So I probably hit her. And I strangled her. If all the evidence shows I was there then it was me that did it. We were both there and the time was right. I went home to eat and Aunt Nat called then I went back to the house.
We have multiple confessions in the Lapointe case but not one that matches the crime scene, not one that matches the physical evidence found, not one that matches the autopsy. Still Lapointe is serving life. His Habeas hearings before Judge Nazzaro try to focus on all the inconsistencies. Judge Nazarro then must make up his mind. Do I trust the confessions or the evidence?
I do not envie Judge Nazarro. Perhaps searching for a technicality to justify a new trial, Judge Nazzaro has been especially interested in the Manchester police department’s decision to secretly tape an interview with Karen Lapointe, Richard Lapointe’s ex-wife. Curiously, police said they saw no reason to tape Lapointe’s crucial confession on the same day – even though he recanted twice before and his words became the foundation for the state’s case.
Nazzaro, of course, could also rule on what motivates Lapointe’s hardy supporters, who have filled benches in the courtroom throughout this trial: that the small, uncoördinated man with the malformed brain was not capable of the vicious murder of 160-pound Bernice Martin, who was tied up, tortured, tossed about, raped and left to die in a burning apartment.
Many doubt whether Lapointe is innocent. However, his Dandy Walker Syndrome is beyond doubt. Now, Dandy Walker Syndrome is a genetic defect, right? The best strategy to get Lapointe’s name cleared is by showing the courts whether the forensic evidence found at the crime scene has DNA with or without that genetic defect. That would also give Judge Nazarro plenty of reason to order a new trial. Why was this man connected to the crime scene if his so blatantly obvious genetic defect is nowhere to be found? I hope for victory in Lapointe’s case. However, such a victory will stay bitter-sweet as long as we do not solve the murder of Mrs. Bernice Martin.