Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Danger of Threatening Inevitable Consequences During an Interrogation

A recent Frontline episode dealt with interrogation techniques and false confessions. The presented case involved the 1997 rape and murder of Michelle Bosko from Norfolk, VA. The following is a synopsis of facts as reported by Frontline:
The victim's husband, who was a sailor in the navy, discovered her body and sought help from the next door neighbor, a fellow sailor named Daniel Williams, who then contacted the police. While the husband had an air-tight alibi, suspicion focused on Williams. Therefore, they asked him to come to the station for a voluntary interview which eventually turned into an 11 hour interrogation. During the interrogation, Williams was administered a polygraph examination which he was falsely told indicated deception. After being threatened with the death penalty, Williams confessed to the rape and murder to avoid execution. In his initial confession he stated that he struck the victim with a shoe and beat her to death. Following the autopsy it was determined that the victim died from stab wounds and strangulation. Williams was re-interrogated and, after the detective revealed the victim's actual cause of death, gave a second confession consistent with the autopsy findings.
Four months later, the crime lab determined that Williams' DNA did not match crime scene evidence. Rather than doubt the integrity of Williams' confession, the police were convinced that there must have been another perpetrator.
Ultimately this case would consist of eight men being charged; five of them confessing but only one DNA match would be found. This case became known as the Norfolk Four.

  • Why did four innocent suspects confess to murder and rape?
  • What tactic should never be employed during an interrogation?


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