Twenty three times Matthew Fields denied having anything to do with the break-in and sexual assault of a woman in her Louisville, KY home in October, 2005. Yet, police would not take "no" for an answer. They persisted in insisting that Fields committed the crime, telling him over and over again that they had the evidence to prove it -- a baldfaced lie which made the 18 year old feel hopeless about his chances of leaving the interrogation room unless he told the officers what they wanted to hear. After two hours of badgering, Fields gave in to his interrogators, telling them that he broke-in the home to commit a burglary but didn't actually have sex with the woman. He told them that he did not assault her because he was scared to leave behing DNA for investigator. Apparently, the Louisville authorities believed the confession was enough and never bothered even to test a rape kit and the women's clothing for semen until the defense forced the issue some eight months later. For over a year Fields sat in jail until DNA test results identified the true perpetrator -- a 36 year old previous offender -- whose profile was in the state database but who is now out on the streets.
Police still have refused to officially exonerate Fields. In defending their investigation, police claim he knew details of the crime that only the true perpetrator would have known -- like her race and the fact she was tied up (facts which easily could have been guessed). But Fields was dead wrong about many other critical details of his story. In addition to being wrong about the fact that the woman had been sexually assaulted, he told police once that it had happened in the back of a car, that he had taken $15 when actually more than $1,000 was stolen and he could not tell them when or where the crime occurred. Fields became a suspect on the scantiest of evidence -- after "some kids" told another officer that Fields had choked a woman during a burglary in the area where the break-in occurred.
The false confession has provoked some local outrage from the Louisville Courier-Journal. Whether this outrage can be turned into something constructive like mandatory electronic recording, limits on the use of deception, or a requirement that prosecutors in cases like this (a mistake ridden false confession) do not charge a suspect until DNA testing is completed, remains to be seen. Hopefully, reporters will continue to cover the story, obtain the police reports and any transcripts of the interrogation, so that the police can learn from their mistakes and the public can learn more about false confessions.
Some questions that need to be answered include: How many conversations with Fields were electronically recorded? If all were not, why weren't the others recorded? A complete recording will enable the public to see whether police ever suggested details of the crime to Fields, either inaverte tly or deliberately. Did police show Fields crime scene photos, often a fertile source of detail that can be incorporated later by the suspect into a false confession? Do early police reports suggest that the woman may not have been raped? If that is the case, did she claim she was not raped out of fear or embarassment? Did police think that there was no rape at the time of the interrogation or did they suggest to Fields that if he just said that he was at the crime scene and committed a burglary, he would not have to cop to the rape? Why was the DNA never tested? Did the failure of the DNA test allow the 36 year old suspect to leave the jurisdiction? Did it allow him to commit other sexual crimes? Is there any connection between Fields and the new suspect or the victim and the new suspect?