10 Controversial Convictions Based on False Confessions
Robin Warder May 22, 2013
One of the biggest causes of wrongful convictions is the false assumption that no one would ever confess to a crime they didn’t commit. When law enforcement officials are under great pressure to solve a case, finding the right perpetrator can become a secondary priority and if necessary, they will use coercion and intimidation to obtain a confession from a suspect. After being subjected to many hours of interrogation, suspects can reach a breaking point where they ultimately decide to tell the authorities what they want to hear. Sometimes, the suspect does not even have the mental faculties to understand the ramifications of what they’re doing. Even when there is no other evidence that a suspect committed the crime, a confession can still be enough to compel a jury to vote “guilty”. Here are ten controversial cases where a conviction was made possible by a very questionable confession.
The Central Park Five
New York City experienced one of its most infamous crimes on April 19, 1989 when a 28-year old woman named Trisha Meili was raped and severely beaten while jogging through Central Park. The attack left her in a coma and she had no memory of the incident after she recovered. Five Harlem youths – Anton McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, and Kharey Wise—had been in the park the night of the attack and were brought in for an interrogation. With the exception of Salaam, they would each make videotaped confessions to the crime. The Central Park Five were all tried and found guilty and given sentences ranging from five to thirteen years.
However, all five youths would recant their confessions and claim they had been coerced and intimidated by the police. Their statements were not consistent with the physical evidence and the prosecution downplayed the fact that none of the DNA from the crime scene matched them. In 2002, the DNA did wind up matching a convicted serial rapist named Matias Reyes, who finally admitted to the crime and confirmed that he did it alone. By that time, the Central Park Five had already served their sentences and been forced to register as sex offenders after being released. On the basis of Reyes’ confession, their convictions were officially vacated.