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False Confession Day

 

Although this is intended to be a lighthearted holiday, encouraging us to make believable false confessions to friends, neighbors, and authorities, we think it's an excellent opportunity to note two false confessions that have made the news recently:  those of George Whitmore Jr. who died on October 8, and Damon Thibodeaux, who was released after 15 years on death row on September 29 after DNA evidence showed he had been wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of his cousin.   

 

George Whitmore Junior's confession in 1964 to three New York murders he did not commit "had a decisive role in the Supreme Court’s Miranda ruling protecting criminal suspects and in the partial repeal of capital punishment in New York State."  According to a New York Times interview with Selwyn Raab, a former New York World-Telegram and Sun reporter very familiar with the case, “Whitmore’s case showed how fragile the whole system was, and still is ... Even now, police use the same techniques to manipulate suspects into giving false confessions. And 90 percent of convictions are still based on confessions.”

 

After 8 and a half hours of intense interrogation by police, Damon Thibodeaux confessed to the rape and murder of his cousin Crystal Champagne.     According to the nonprofit The Innocence Project " a reinvestigation of the case confirmed that Thibodeaux’s confession was false in every significant aspect and included a thorough examination of the reasons why Thibodeaux had falsely confessed, including exhaustion, psychological vulnerability and fear of the death penalty. The prosecution’s own expert had concluded that Thibodeaux falsely confessed based on fear of the death penalty, but this information was never shared with the defense."  DNA testing by forensic experts "concluded that there was no evidence connecting Thibodeaux to the murder and that, contrary to Thibodeaux’s statement, the victim had not been sexually assaulted."  Thibodeaux was the 300th person exonerated through DNA testing.

 

The Innocence Project has created this video about false confessions which have been the deciding factor in 25% of wrongful convictions that were overturned through DNA testing: