In July I finally resolved a murder case that I have been working on for the better part of 3 years. I received a not guilty on the case in spite of the fact that my client gave a recorded “confession” to the crime. I am convinced that in spite of his confession, he was indeed an innocent man – and 12 jurors agreed in just over 4 hours of deliberation that he was. Here are the facts – as I often do I will leave out specific names and locations to protect the privacy of those involved:
In the early morning hours of one day in March of 2013 the police were called to the scene of a single car accident in Baltimore City. Once on the scene, they found an unresponsive adult male slumped over the steering wheel. They removed him from the vehicle and quickly determined that he had suffered from a single gunshot to the back. The paramedics worked on him at the scene but were unable to revive him and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
The police inventoried the contents of the vehicle and found $1200 in cash (mostly in $20 bills) a gold watch, a half consumed bottle of soda and a few other items. The vehicle in question was a 10 year old Mercedes Benz. It was determined in the initial stages of the investigation that the victim was unemployed and had been for some time. It was also determined that he had been involved in the distribution of narcotics. In fact this information was confirmed by his girlfriend. Finally, a bulletin was very recently circulated to the officers and detectives working this part of the city, that there was a significant uptick in gang related activity (in particular Crip activity) in the area. I will let the reader draw your own conclusions about the likely circumstances of this shooting but it look fairly obvious to me that it was drug related.
The case was assigned to an experienced homicide detective who among his first actions took possession of the victim’s cell phone. The next morning, two text messages came in from my client and eventually a phone call. The detective answered the phone and told my confused client on the other end that he needed to speak to him. My client agreed and they met shortly thereafter. It was then that they told my client that his friend was dead and questioned him about his relationship to him and his whereabouts the previous night. My client, who incidentally has learning disabilities documented back to when he was 5 years old and has an IQ of just 64, told them that the victim was his best friend. He told them that he was with the victim the evening before but was dropped off at his home around 10pm – over 3 hours prior to the murder.
The detectives then conducted what can only be called a superficial investigation over the next 9 days. I won’t go into all of the details but what little information they did uncover not only did not point them in the direction of my client, it confirmed exactly what he had told them. Text and phone records showed that my client and the victim were in contact almost all day every day. There was no indication of any tension or arguments between them. In short, the evidence pointed to the conclusion this was a drug related homicide and that my client and the victim were the best of friends, just as he told them
Just 9 days later, with their investigation at a stand-still – mostly because they hadn’t done much real investigating – they decided to call my client and request to re-interview him. This call prompted my client to call his long time attorney and ask him what he should do. The attorney, believing that he was not a suspect, initially told him that it was ok for him to speak to the detectives so he could help them solve the murder of his friend. Things changed a few hours later though and he called his attorney again. This time he told the attorney that he was scared and that he believed that the detectives were going to try to “put this murder on him”. At this point the attorney told him not to speak to the detectives and to tell them that he did not wish to be interviewed without the presence of his lawyer.
As I mentioned earlier, my client has an IQ of just 64 which makes him legally “retarded”. This is not a nice word and is often used as an insult. It is also a medical term related to a person’s level of intellectual disability. In my client’s case, his score on the IQ test means that he functions in the bottom 1% of adults. In other words, 99% of adults his age function at a higher intellectual level than he does. The client’s intellectual disability was well known to his attorney or for this reason the attorney made certain that he understood his instructions and even made him repeat them back to him twice.
Phone records then show that just 30 seconds after hanging up with the attorney, my client called one of the detectives. They spoke for 3 minutes and 40 seconds and according to the detective, my client not only didn’t tell him that he didn’t want to be interviewed without his attorney, he never even mentioned that he had an attorney.When cross examined about what exactly they talked about for almost 4 minutes, the detective said that other than arranging a place to meet, he couldn’t remember the conversation and didn’t take notes.
My client, on the other hand, remembered the conversation in great well and explained the details to the attorney the very next day when he visited him in jail. According to the client, the detective told him that he “didn’t give an F— about his lawyer and that if he didn’t come down to station, he was going to “put this F—ing murder” on him.
Reluctantly, the client agreed to be picked up and taken to the station – and here’s where things get really sketchy. We were able to recreate an extremely accurate time line time he was logged into the station as well as the times that the taped statements began and ended. Essentially they interrogated the client for twenty minutes before turning on the tape recorder for the first time – yes, they used an old fashioned tape recorder in a murder investigation. It is hard to believe but true that detectives would use 1920’s technology in a murder case even though both detectives had smart phones equipped with high definition cameras as pretty much all of us do these days. During this first interview my client told them exactly what he had told them from the beginning of the investigation – that the victim was his best friend and that he had nothing to do with his murder. The detectives ended that tape and admit that they continued to interrogate him for almost an hour with no recording or note taking. They then start a second tape and the client says that he shot the victim in self-defense.
The detectives refused to give any details about what occurred during that 50 minute gap. They did not take notes or document what occurred in any report. According to my client, he was repeatedly told that they were going to “put this murder on him” and he was “never going home” unless he admitted that he killed the victim. They then, in a classic manipulation tactic, gave the client an “out” telling him that if he killed the victim in self-defense that this was legal and he would not be prosecuted. Now perhaps the reader may think that they would never admit to something they didn’t do but DNA testing has proven that false confessions occur frequently, particularly when high pressure interrogation tactics are used against intellectually disabled suspects. I would suggest to any skeptical reader that they simple go to the Project Innocence website where you will find that in approximately 25% of cases in which the defendant has been proven by DNA to be factually innocent, the suspect confessed to committing the crime. I recognize that this is hard for some people to accept but the empirical evidence that it is true is irrefutable and that is exactly what it happened in this case.
My client was indicted for first degree murder. Over the next 3 years, half of which he spent in jail, the case went through three different judges, the second of whom suppressed the “confession”; an appeal in which the confession was reinstated and a trial before a jury in Baltimore City. In the end it took the jury just 3 hours to conclude that this was indeed a false confession and find him not guilty of the charges.