In many cases, innocent defendants make incriminating statements, deliver outright confessions, or plead guilty. Regardless of the age, capacity, or state of the confessor, what they often have in common in their decision is that at some point during the interrogation process, confessing appears to be more beneficial to them than continuing to maintain their innocence.
what are false confessions?
The Central Park 5
On the night of April 19th, 1989, a series of attacks occurred in New York City's Central Park. These attacks were some of the most widely publicized crimes of the 1980's and subsequently spawned the use of the word "wilding," or unprovoked gang assaults on strangers. One of the Central Park victims was 28-year-old Trisha Meili, who was on her usual evening jog when she was brutally beaten and raped. Her body was found several hours later in a shallow ravine near the northern end of the park, her life hanging on by a thread.
Five teenagers were taken into custody by police: Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise. They were originally apprehended for their general connection with the attacks which were committed by a group of 30 teenagers, and after hours of interrogation and coercion, they falsely confessed to the attempted murder of Trisha Meili. Hairs found at the crime scene were linked to Kevin Richardson by a forensic expert who claimed that the hair was "similar" to Richardson's to a "reasonable degree of scientific certainty." Microscopic hair analysis has since been identified as an unreliable and inconclusive forensic science method.
Despite the use of junk science and the fact that DNA evidence from the rape kit did not match any of the suspects, all five boys, who became known as the Central Park Five, were convicted of the crime and received sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years in prison. Four of the five youth appealed their cases without success.
Over ten years later, after members the Central Park Five had spent between 6 and 13 years in prison, Matia Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist, confessed to the crime and was proven guilty by both the rape kit DNA evidence as well as mitochondrial hair analysis. Although he was already serving a life sentence, Reyes was not prosecuted for the rape and attempted murder of Meili because the statute of limitations had passed.
Manhattan District Attorney, Robert Morgenthau, who originally tried the case, came forward in December of 2002 to recommend that the convictions of the five men be overturned.
The convictions of these five teenagers raised questions regarding police coercion and false confessions, as well as, the vulnerability of juveniles during police interrogations. The wrongful convictins also inspired the 2012 documentary, The Central Park Five, available for purchase or rent on Youtube. Watch the trailer below or see additional resources at the bottom of this page for more information on false confessions.
THE CONFESSIONS TAPES | A Netflix Original Series
In September 2017, Netflix aired a new true-crime series that focuses on the issues surrounding false confessions. Each episode goes inside a murder case where a suspect made a confession, yet later claimed the confession was made involuntarily or under duress. The series examines video recordings of the suspects' interactions with members of law enforcement as well as interviews with investigators, lawyers, wrongful conviction experts and people close to those involved in the cases.