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On Confessions and Actual Innocence

Posted on October 5, 2012 at 11:25 AM

In recent news, Damon Thibodeaux was exonerated after spending 15 years in solitary confinement (23 hours alone in a cell, with 1 hour for rec.). Damon Thibodeaux was the 300th person to be exonerated due to DNA evidence proving he was not the murderer and rapist of his cousin, although he had confessed to police that he was in 1996 after a nine-hour interrogation. According to a police transcript, Thibodeaux said, “I didn’t know that I had done it, but I done it.” Before the day was over, he recanted that confession to his court-appointed attorney, telling his defense counsel that he only said what the police wanted to hear due to grief over his cousin’s death and the threats about lethal injection. [1]

August 23, 2012 marked the one year anniversary of the exoneration of the West Memphis Three, the nickname given to the three men convicted of murdering three eight-year-old boys in 1993. Damien Echols was one of those and he sums it up with his comment, “A pardon won’t give me back twenty years of my life.” [2] Echols has written a book entitled Life After Death, describing the “incredible efforts to free” him and his thoughts on the difficult decision Jason made to take that Alford plea that gained the three men’s freedom. [3]

There is a prevailing belief that an innocent person “never would’ve confessed to doing something if he wasn’t guilty…” [5] These cases highlight innocent men’s exonerations and pleas. If you follow my blogs, you’ll remember the infamous drug bust that occurred in Ohio where fifteen people took guilty pleas after the first had her trial (a mother of three children) and received a stiff sentence. The rest took pleas that sentenced them to less prison time, and yet all the convictions were based on false eye-witness testimony as it was later discovered, thereby overturning all fifteen convictions. [4]

What are confessions? Confessions are not just a sobbing man wringing his hands telling interrogating police officers where he hid his ex-wife’s body or any other melodramatic Hollywood –style tale. Guilty pleas are treated as confessions in the justice system. Anything said and overheard that seems incriminating can be later used as a confession made by the defendant. The Innocence Project has estimated that “25% of their DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or plead guilty.” [6]


[1] Blackmon, D.A. (2012) Louisiana Death Row Inmate Damon Thibodeaux exonerated with DNA Evidence. The Washington Post. Retrieved October 3, 2012, from

[2] Castillo, M. (2011) CBS News West Memphis Three's Damon Echols: "A pardon won't give me back 20 years of my life.” Retrieved October 5, 2012, from:

[3] Soury, L. (2012) False Confession Blog – Damien Echols’ Statement. Retrieved October 2, 2012, from from

[4] Link to indicated blog:

[5] Scenes of a Crime. Dir.s. Hadaegh, B. and Babcock, G. (2011) Film.

[6] Innocence Project. (n.d.) False Confessions. Retrieved October 2, 2012, from

Categories: Problems in Justice System