False Confessions

Why would an innocent person confess to a crime he didn’t commit?  The answer to that question is complicated and a bit counter-intuitive, but there is an answer.  Here are two great links to help you wrap your mind around the problem.

First, This American Life, episode 507: Confessions, from October, 2013.

Next, a Fresh Air interview by Terry Gross of Douglas Starr, Beyond Good Cop / Bad Cop, which aired on December 5, 2013.  Douglas Starr’s article, The Interview: Interrogation Techniques and False Confessions, is available in the December 9 edition of The New Yorker.

The links and the article might not tell you everything there is to know about false confessions and their relationship to wrongful convictions, but it’s a damn good start.

George Souliotes Finds Justice but Must Wait One More Night Before Finding Freedom

In order to be released from custody after spending 16 years in prison for an accidental fire misidentified as arson, George Souliotes entered an Alford plea to involuntary manslaughter for negligently maintaing the smoke alarm in the rental property where a mother and her two young children died in a fire in 1997.  The superior court judge ordered his immediate release from custody.

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The Witch Hunt Moves to Texas

Less than two weeks after California prosecutors decided to retry George Souliotes rather than admit a mistake and release him from custody, Texas prosecutors choose the same path in the case of Ed Graf.

In a case where a fire took the lives of two young boys in Waco, Texas in 1986, with forensic fire evidence hauntingly similar to that of Cameron Todd Willingham (wrongfully convicted and executed for arson and murder from a 1992 fire in Corsicana, Texas), the McLennan County District Attorney, Abel Reyna, has decided to re-try the case on charges of capital murder.

ABC News article here.

In January the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered state prosecutors to either give Graf a new trial or release him from custody.  With every fire science expert involved in the case, both for the prosecution and the defense, agreeing that there is no evidence of an intentionally set fire, that the fire indicators relied upon at the time to suggest arson are now recognized as classic junk-fire-science, and that some evidence actually suggests an accidental cause, its not clear why the local DA is willing to go forward with a new trial.

One thing, however, is certain.  After having spent 25-years in prison for a crime that was likely never a crime at all, Ed Graf will remain in custody durning his retrial.  His bond was set today at $1.5 Million.