Sunday, January 17, 2016

Why Do People Confess To Stuff They Didn't Do?

We watched Making A Murderer on Netflix this last week.  I didn't know how to write about the show without talking about what happens.  But then I saw a short article in the paper yesterday saying that Steven Avery has filed an appeal.

So, if you are in the middle of watching Making of a Murderer, you probably should stop reading right now.  Not that I'm going to give any spoilers.

There's a newscast early on that talks, in the normal urgent, almost astonished tone of news broadcasts, about the confession of Brendan Dacey, the 16 year old burdened with guilt, who told investigators in gory detail how he went to his uncle's trailer and found a naked woman handcuffed to the bed.  She begged him to help her.  Instead, at his uncle's urgings, he raped her an slit her throat, and shot her in the head.  Then they burned in in the burn put out back."

Sounds pretty damning doesn't it.

But as the show continues, you see the hours it took to get the confession from this low IQ, quiet, introverted kid.  They didn't use physical force.  They didn't even raise their voices.  But they constantly told him they were there to help him - his court appointed lawyer wasn't there and his mom said she wasn't even told about the interrogation - and all he had to tell the truth.  He kept denying things until he starts guessing at what they want to hear.

"What did you do to her head?"
"We know, we just need you to tell us."
On and on until
"Hit her."
"Is that all"
We know there's more.
What else did you do to her head?
"Cut off her hair?"
It goes on and on until the detective asks if they shot her in the head.

The cops were sure they had the right guy and they used every trick to get him to confess.  It wasn't hard with a very immature, slow, quiet teenager, with no record at all.  (At one point he's on the phone and tells his mom, "they said I was inconsistent.  What does that mean?"  His mom doesn't know either.)

Here are some pictures of his court appointed attorney's investigator interrogating Brendan.  This guy is supposed to be working for Brendan, but he's working hard to get a confession.

"Do you want to get out and have a family someday?"  Image from Making a Murderer

"Well, that means you have to cooperate with me" - Image from Making a Murderer
He tells Brendan to draw a picture of the woman handcuffed to the bed, and Brendan does as he's told.  In a conversation with him mom, when she asked why he confessed to something he didn't do, and where did he get these ideas from, he says, "I guessed what they wanted, like I do in school."

Here's that same interrogator, in the courtroom responding to Brendan's new attorney, one with experience in coerced confessions.  Remember, this guy was supposed to be on Brendan's side. He's talking about Brendan's family, the Avery's.

These people are pure evil  - image of Brendan's mother and grandmother

"A friend of mine suggested 'This is a one-branch family tree'"

"Cut this tree down.  We need to end the gene pool here"
 The only thing positive I can say about this guy is that he seems to believe in evolution if he's talking about genes.   He gets this guy to acknowledge that he was trying to get the confession to help the prosecutors' case against Brendan's uncle.  (I didn't use 'admit' because he doesn't seem to think he did anything wrong.)  Brendan's new attorney is incredulous about the interview and this testimony.

While Brendan's confession is not allowed in Steve Avery's trial, it is allowed in Brendan's.

The film makers clearly believe that Steve Avery is innocent and that Brendan's confession is coerced and pure fiction.  There's a lot they left out - the trials lasted weeks.  One tantalizing lead I would have like to know more about was when they asked if the story about the assault and murder wasn't true, where did he get his ideas.  Eventually he says he read it in a book and names the book.  The show didn't say if anyone followed up and found a copy of the book.

My flight to Seattle is about to board, so I'm going to post this, but I may add some more later.  Or make a Part 2. (My granddaughter said, "I want you to come to my birthday party."  What could I do but say yes?)  But I can say, I'll never 'hear' a reported confession the same again.

Confessions Part 2 is here.

UPDATE Jan 20:  Here's an LA Times article about LA settlements with two men wrongly convicted of murder who served 34 and 26 years in prison and who were awarded $16 and $7 million.  I don't think confessions were involved, but there was enough wrongdoing by police officers that city attorneys argued against going to court.

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