2006: A YEAR TO REMEMBER IN FALSE CONFESSIONS/RECORDING INTERROGATIONS
JANUARY 2006 • The New Year began on a sad note with news that Welsh White, a University of Pittsburgh law professor, died after a long battle with lung cancer. White, a former prosecutor, wrote several seminal law review articles about false and coerced confessions. • A flood of newspaper coverage of the Marty Tankleff case fans hopes that this could be the year of Tankleff’s release. Tankleff’s story graces the pages of the New York Times, People Magazine, and other widely read publications and his story is shown on 48 Hours and CBS News. The big news around the New Year is that Joey Guarascio, the son of Joey “Guns” Creedon, the man many think killed Marty’s parents – comes forward and states that Creedon admitted that he was the killer. • The Korean High Court affirms lower court rulings which exonerate Kenzi Snider of the murder of fellow exchange student Jamie Lynn Penich. • Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia disappoints many with his announcement that he will not rule on the clemency petitions filed by the Norfolk Four defendants but will leave the decision his successor, Tim Kaine. • John Spirko’s execution in Ohio is delayed again to allow for DNA testing. The year would end with two other delays as DNA testing is not complete. • A Massachusetts jury acquits Barbara Asher, a dominatrix, in the murder of one of her customers despite the fact that she confessed to the crime. The failure to record the confession and testimony of Dr. Richard Ofshe is pivotal in her successful defense.
FEBRUARY • Chris Gossett, a mentally disabled man, confesses that he, and not the 12 year old boy named J.A. who had been convicted, was the killer of 8 year old Amy Yates in Carrolton, Georgia. Police and prosecutors immediately discount the confession. • Peter Ziolkowski is released from jail in Avenel, N.J. Ziokowlski had been pressured to confess to the murder of his brother Daniel Ziolkowski. • A Cook County jury awards three men – Omar Aguirre, Edar Santos, and Robert Gayol, a total of $6.74 million, -- in their wrongful conviction suit against Chicago police officers who had coerced false confessions from the men. • Cleveland Mayor Frank Johnson announces that Cleveland police officers will start recording all statements of suspects and witnesses in homicide and rape cases. • A Harris County jury convicts Max Soffar, a mentally disabled man, for the second time of three murders in a bowling alley in 1980. After spending over 20 years on death row, the second jury sends Soffar back to death row.
MARCH • Judge Stephen Braslow Denies Marty Tankleff’s Motion for a New Trial. Tankleff’s attorneys vow to appeal. • ABC’s Prime Time Live Devotes an Hour Show to Police Interrogations and False Confessions.
APRIL • Judge Grants a New Trial for J.A. in Amy Yates Case • Louisville Courier runs stories on false confession of Chuckie Hickman to murder of 10 year old Katie Collman in Crothersville, Ind. True killer, Andrew Stockleman, pleads guilty to the crime after his DNA was found on the victim. • Billy Wayne Cope, a man convicted of the murder of his daughter in South Carolina based entirely on a confession proven to be false by DNA evidence that linked a serial rapist and complete stranger James Sanders to the crime, files his appeal.
MAY • Earl Washington, who spent 18 years on death row in Virginia before being exonerated, is awarded $2.25 million dollars in suit against estate of the police officer who coerced his confession. • Holding that new evidence has effectively dismantled the case against Bruce Lisker, a federal magistrate recommends that Lisker’s claim of actual innocence in a habeas petition be allowed to proceed despite the fact that it is time-barred. In October, 2006, a district court judge agrees. Lisker, who has been locked up since 1983 for the murder of his mother, will get a full evidentiary hearing that could lead to his release in 2007. • Schenactady, N.Y. announces plans to record interrogations in violent crimes • Douglas Warney, of Rochester, N.Y., who served nine years in prison for a murder to which he falsely confessed, is exonerated by DNA evidence. The DNA evidence also identifies the true perpetrator of the crime. • As part of settlement in Eddie Joe Lloyd’s civil suit, Detroit police agree to start recording interrogations in homicide and other violent crimes.
JUNE • Miranda v. Arizona turns 40 years old.
JULY • Daniel Gristwood of Syracuse, New York, who falsely confessed to attempting to kill his wife with a clawhammer, is exonerated after the true killer confesses to the crime. • James Edward Mullins falsely confesses to crime committed by one of two Phoenix serial killers terrorizing residents – the so-called Baseline Killer. • California Commission on Fair Administration of Justice releases Report recommending that all interrogations of suspects be electronically recorded. Legislature later passes bill requiring this much-needed reform but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoes it. • Special Prosecutors release Report on Torture in Chicago’s Area Two, finding torture occurred but placing the blame only on Jon Burge and a few others. Report also states that noone can be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations.
AUGUST • Lake County, Illinois Judge Grants New Trial for Juan Rivera in False Confession Case after DNA evidence found on body of 11-year-old victim Holly Staker, excludes Rivera. • John Mark Karr confesses to murder of Jon-Benet Ramsey and is arrested. After he is flown back to the states first class, DNA evidence excludes him. All charges against him are dropped. • Bill Moushey and his students produce series on false confessions in Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
SEPTEMBER • Keith Longtin, who falsely confessed to killing his wife before DNA evidence exonerated him, is awarded $6.4 million dollars in civil suit against Prince George’s County. • Jeffrey Deskovic of Peekskill, New York is exonerated by DNA evidence after serving nearly 16 years in prison for the murder and rape of Angela Correa. Deskovic was only 16 at the time of his false confession. • DNA clears Kevin Sessions, Jr. of Oklahoma of the rape of a 50 year old woman in Tulsa. Sessions, a star athlete, is only 17 at the time of his false confession • Bill Luedders’s Cry Rape tells the chilling tale about how tunnelvision led Madison, WI police officers to turn on a rape victim and coerce her into recanting her claim that she was raped. DNA evidence later proved that she was raped.
OCTOBER • DNA evidence excludes James Owens and James Thompson, two Baltimore men, of the 1988 rape and murder of Colleen Willar. Thompson had confessed. The men may have to wait until 2007 to be officially exonerated. • Chicago settles wrongful arrest case with false confessor Corethian Bell for one million dollars. Bell, who is mentally disabled, had been coerced into falsely confessing to killing his mother. • Chicago pays $2.0 million to Erik Kittler, who was only fifteen when he was pressured into falsely confessing to a crime he did not commit. Kittler spent a total of five years in prison before his conviction was reversed. He was acquitted at a retrial. Prosecutors eventually secured a conviction against another man. • John Grisham’s first non-fiction book, The Innocent Man, is released. The book tells the story of Ron Williamson (and to a lesser extent, his co-defendant, Dennis Fritz), two men who were wrongfully convicted of a murder and rape in Ada, Oklahoma in 1982, based in large part on junk science and Williamson’s false confession. The book rockets up to the top of the NYTimes best seller’s list.
NOVEMBER • Grand jury indicts Chris Gossett in murder of Amy Yates. No indictment returned against J.A. • Robert Wilson is exonerated of attempted murder after witness recants her identification of Wilson and becomes convinced that she was assaulted by another man who had been attacking others in the same area in which she was attacked. Wilson was convicted on the basis of her identification and a false confession obtained by Chicago police officers• A state appeals court vacated the conviction of Derek Tice, one of the Norfolk Four’s wrongfully convicted men. Tice had been convicted twice of the July 1997 murder of Michelle Bosko, a crime which DNA proved was committed by Omar Ballard. Even though Ballard later confessed to committing the crime without any accomplices, prosecutors were still able to secure convictions against Tice and three other Navy men.
DECEMBER • Norfolk Police Department announces plans to record interrogations in homicide cases. • Charges against Matthew Livers, a mentally disabled Nebraska man, are dropped after prosecutors concede that his confession is both false and coerced. • Travis Hayes’s conviction is vacated. Hayes falsely confessed to being a lookout and driver in an armed robbery/murder. Hayes co-defendant. Ryan Matthews, was exonerated off death row when DNA implicated another man of the crime, but Hayes was forced to remain in prison for an additional 2.5 years while prosecutors fought to preserve this wrongful conviction. Hayes is released on bond and will get to spend his first Christmas with his family in years. A state court judge refuses to allow Derek Tice to be released on bond pending the state's appeal of the decision vacating his conviction, thus ensuring that Tice will not get to spend his first Christmas with his long-suffering family in years. Johnnie Lee Savory is paroled after serving 30 years in prison for a double murder in Peoria, Illinois that he has always maintained he did not commit. Only 14 at the time of his arrest, Savory, now 44, vows to continue his pursuit of the DNA testing which could exonerate him.