In slightly more than 1 in 4 proven cases of wrongful conviction, a false confession was given during police interrogation. There are many reasons innocent people confess to crimes they did not commit, ranging from age, coercion and fear, to mental impairment or illness and ignorance of law to threats and torture during interrogation. But one thing is for certain, it happens. As of today, even though a relatively new theory, there are around 125 proven cases of false confession, 5 of them are listed below.
Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, aka “the West Memphis 3” (wm3)
The three men, boys at the time, were convicted in 1994 of murdering three little boys in a satanic ritual. They served 18 years in prison, Damien on death row. Jessie Misskelley, a mentally challenged (reported IQ of around 72) 15 year-old confessed and named the other two as co-conspirators. Jessie’s confession and testimony was the number one piece of evidence and reason for their conviction. Jessie barely knew Damien or Jason and details he gave during interrogation changed many times and didn’t line up with facts from the crime scene, not even the time of day or method used to kill the children. In 2007, DNA collected during investigation was tested and didn't match any of the defendants. Interestingly, it matched one of the children's step-father, he has never been investigated and the men remained in prison. Finally in 2011 after their attorneys filed a Habeas Corpus and years of documentaries and steadfast supporters bringing public attention to the case, they were offered an Alford Plea. The men, especially Jason, didn’t want to accept the Alford Plea but because Damien was on death row and close to his date of execution, they all agreed. The murder of the three young boys remains unsolved and will stay that way unless investigated privately or someone confesses on their death bed; the Alford Plea allowed the state to keep their record clean, avoid a law suit and the case closed.
Martin "Marty", 17 at the time he was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive 25 year sentences for murdering his adopted parents in 1988. The evidence used to convict him was a confession he gave during an extended interrogation with no legal guardian present and immediately following the tragic loss of his parents, whom he loved dearly. Marty served 17 years before his conviction was overturned and he was exonerated based on new evidence and proof of the actual murderer was uncovered by his attorneys. Marty was awarded $3.4 million from the state for his wrongful conviction lawsuit and graduated from law school at Touro Law Center in May 2014. He plans to use his degree to help other victims of wrongful conviction.
Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson & Kharey Wise, Aka “Central Park Jogger Case”
The five boys were between the ages of 14-16 when they were convicted in 1990 of rape and assault. The conviction was totally based on coerced confessions and faulty scientific evidence. Their confessions didn’t match details from the crime or even match the other boy’s confessions but none the less they were all found guilty and sentenced for the crime. All of their convictions were overturned in 2002 when the actual rapist, Matias Reyes, confessed and was linked through DNA evidence. September of 2014, the men were awarded a 41 million dollar settlement from the State of New York because of the pain, suffering and loss of life in connection with the wrongful convictions.
Juan Rivera, Jr.
Juan was convicted three times for the 1992 rape and murder of an 11 year-old girl because of a false confession given during an extremely hostile, police interrogation. Before the third trial DNA had advanced enough to test semen found during investigation and Juan was not a match, but he was still found guilty. During his appeal after the third trial the Judge threw out the conviction and barred prosecutors from retrying him, something almost unheard of. The DNA has never been linked to a person but has been linked to another home invasion and murder. The person (Marvin Tyrone Williford) serving a sentence for that case isn’t a DNA match either and not surprisingly also claims to be innocent. Juan received a $20 million settlement, at the time it was the largest-ever settlement for a wrongful conviction in U.S. history.
Ryan Ferguson/ Charles Erickson
The two boys, who were still teenagers at the time they were convicted in 2001 of killing a local, well known and liked newspaper editor and sentenced to life in prison and 25 years respectively. Charles Erickson a friend of Ryan’s from high school, that he’d lost touch with a few years earlier had started experiencing symptoms of mental illness. He told a few people that he had strange dreams about the night of the murder, a night that he and Ryan had spent together, two years prior bar hopping with fake ID's. After the police received a tip that a man named Charles Erickson could not remember the evening of the murder and was concerned that he may have been involved, they called him in for an interrogation. Despite the fact that Charles initially had no memories of the evening, by the end of interrogation he'd confessed and implicated Ryan as well. Ryan served 10 years before being exonerated after his conviction was vacated and oddly enough, Charles remains in prison. Ryan has stated that it's his mission to help Charles as well as other victims of wrongful conviction.
Article written by Lisa Wallace