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On False Confessions

Posted on August 30, 2011 at 12:50 AM

An appeal made the headlines yesterday and given its deeply emotional roots in Cleveland as well as the twist (the man is requesting to withdraw his guilty plea), I felt it needed spotlighted. In 2002, a priest was shot. Father William Gulas was shot and after his murder, his office was set afire [1]. Dan Montgomery was taken in for questioning and after seven hours of interrogation ended up confessing to the police to the murder and subsequent arson. On October 3, 2003, Montgomery took a guilty plea, likely to avoid the death penalty that Prosecutor Bill Mason fully intended to seek [1]. He requested the evidence to be tested in 2004 (DNA), but it was denied. A reporter, once a former classmate of Montgomery’s, took up his cause. Now with new counsel, Montgomery is attempting the near-impossible legal feat: overturning a conviction that started with a guilty plea.

This blog is not to debate whether or not Montgomery actually committed these crimes and I don’t even plan to venture an opinion or speculate thereof. Rather, I would like to draw attention to the capability of false confessions. In 2002, the Cleveland police didn’t have to record interrogations (this policy has since changed) [1]. Many states now require the taping and/or audio recording of interrogations in homicide cases [2]. This is in part due to the efforts of the Innocence Project who has to-date been responsible for 273 post-conviction DNA exonerations, of which 25% the wrongful conviction was derived from a false confession or incriminating statements [2]. With video and audio recordings, it is easier to see if a defendant has been coerced into the confession or statement that was given.

One of my 2009 blogs was about a drug case where 15 people were arrested. The first, a mother with children, went to trial and lost dismally. Upon seeing this, the 14 others all took pleas. It was eventually discovered that not a single one of them had been guilty of the crime, yet they all “confessed.” [3]

There is a book published last year by an attorney-turned-author, Laura Caldwell that deals with this issue. It's called Long Way Home. It reads like a thriller, but know that this is a very true story. Caldwell wrote the story of Jovan Mosley from Chicago, who after an interrogation lasting almost two days, confessed and signed a statement confessing to the murder of a man he never touched! He spent 5 years and 8 months in jail waiting for his trial. There was no evidence other than his confession. In fact, the evidence pointed against his having anything to do with the murder, but the police and the system failed Jovan Mosley. [4]

There are so many others out there not just these or my husband’s plea and twisted statements the police were planning to use against him. If you recall, the North Olmsted Police Department took Elwood to the station for questioning as our daughter left in the ambulance alone. He was questioned by multiple officers and after approximately 3 hours the two detectives went in to interrogate him further. Elwood never confessed to shaking Amanda. He never confessed to doing anything other than dropping her, one time, accidentally. He readily signed away his Miranda rights to issue those statements to the police and answer questions, being the people-pleaser he is and believing the truth would set him free (the fact that it didn't would be a topic for another blog entirely, see Forums for a link to a book about interrogations). His plea according to the legal community is a "confession." Guilty pleas are confessions, which are used as facts in the court room. It is our intent to file another appeal - and soon - requesting to withdraw his guilty plea and have the chance at a trial denied to us originally to have the truth be told (finally).

As far as Shaken Baby Syndrome is concerned, a neuropathologist in the UK has already realized that "support for the 'accepted' hypothesis is based on...confessions and convictions" (among other reasons) see Forums: SBS Confessions Used as Scientific Proof. She further stated: "...confessions are unreliable unless the circumstances in which they are made are known." You might be surprised to discover the length authorities will go to secure either a confession or a witness for the prosecution, such as threatening removal of children (as happened with the witnesses in the Massachusetts case that earned the attention of Hollywood, which created a movie based on a sister who didn't believe her brother committed the murder he spent 18 years in prison for. She went to law school, without having had a degree initially and successfully got her brother off on appeal. This movie is based on the real-life case and two witnesses testified against the man, supporting the notion he murdered the victim based upon the threats they received). In fact, those of you who have read Our Story realize that Elwood had been threatened to get him to take the plea.

It will be interesting to follow Montgomery's appeal, whether it is denied or not, though his is not the first appeal to be filed for these reasons (see State v. Seeder in NY; a woman successfully withdrew her guilty plea to murder and was afforded a new trial). I will keep you updated accordingly, just as I did with the drug case mentioned earlier.

Justice should be blind, not intended solely for those we believe might be innocent. The presumption of innocence is never more important than in a case where a capital charge might be levied (such as with Montgomery and originally with Elwood's - the death penalty). That presumption is the lodestone of the mere ability to establish justice and everyone deserves the fairness of this presumption, the right to a trial, and any victims deserve to know the truth, not be thrown a convenient scapegoat to blame (perhaps wrongfully).



References:

[1] Gillispie, M. (2001). Sunday Plain Dealer. August 28, 2011, A1 & A12.

[2] Innocence Project (n.d.). Fact Sheet: False Confessions and incriminating statements. Retrieved August 29, 2011, from http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/351PRINT.php

[3] Marrhoubi-Sadowsky, T. (2009). How Far is Too Far for a Conviction. Retrieved August 29, 2011, from http://www.theamandatruthproject.com/apps/blog/show/1864087-problems-with-justice-how-far-is-too-far-for-a-conviction-

[4] Caldwell, L. (2010). Long Way Home: A Young Man Lost in the System and the Two Women Who Found Him. The Free Press

(available at most any bookstores and online)

Categories: Problems in Justice System

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2 Comments

Reply Tonya
3:43 PM on June 13, 2012 
New Study says there is a significant risk of wrongful convictions with plea bargains. To read blog:
http://wrongfulconvictionsblog.org/2012/06/13/new-study-significa
nt-risk-of-wrongful-conviction-in-plea-bargaining/
Reply Tonya
2:42 PM on February 27, 2012 
UPDATE -

See NY Times article written by David K. Shipler "Why Do Innocent People Confess?" for some really striking stories of proven false confessions: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/26/opinion/sunday/why-do-innocent-
people-confess.html?_r=1