Police Induce False Confession Leading to Wrongful Conviction
Update: Be sure to follow the links provided in the comments by readers Nicole Black and Peter G to learn more about this case and about false confessions.
It was easier for the Rochester, NY police to elicit Douglas Warney's confession than it would have been to track down the actual killer of William Beason.
Warney, who has a recorded IQ of 68 and a history of mental health issues, was convicted based almost entirely on a confession he gave police after hours of interrogation-even though the confession was riddled with inconsistencies, he had a history of making false reports to police and the physical evidence at the time failed to link him to the crime. Warney was initially charged with capital murder, though he was ultimately sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
In papers filed to vacate Warney's conviction and release him from prison, the Innocence Project said Rochester police officers provided key details of the murder to Warney during interrogations. Once Warney repeated those details-which were not publicly available-in a confession, police and prosecutors focused on no other suspects and secured his conviction by saying nobody but the perpetrator of the crime would know such details.
DNA tests subsequently pointed the finger of guilt at a man who, imprisoned for another crime, has since confessed. Warney was released, but only after he spent ten years in prison.
The truth didn't matter much to the Monroe County District Attorney's office, which parrotted the inevitable argument that "all cases must come to an end" even if they've ended in injustice. To prosecutors (and many judges) who worship at the altar of finality, getting the case done is more important than getting it done right.
In court papers filed May 23, the Innocence Project said Warney's case "shines a light on the Monroe County prosecutor's inexplicable custom of opposing post-conviction DNA testing and the reluctance of trial judges to follow the intent of the law, the whole purpose of which is to give defendants an opportunity to prove, scientifically, their actual innocence". For two years, the Monroe County district attorney, Michael Green, fought DNA testing in the case, saving the finality of the conviction was critical.
Warney's conviction wasn't an innocent mistake.
"These DNA results don't just show that Doug Warney is innocent-they reveal criminal conduct on the part of at least two Rochester police officers, and they demonstrate tunnel vision on the part of police and prosecutors who ignored compelling evidence that the confession was bogus", said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project. "This case should be a clarion call for every law enforcement agency in the state to begin recording police interrogatories for serious crimes."
Police should be required to record every word they say to induce a confession, and every word uttered by the suspect in response. Honest officers understand that recording protects them from claims that they're distorting or inventing the suspect's statement. Officers like those who "interrogated" Warney fear they might become less effective if their tactics are exposed. In other words, they might have to start doing the hard work of solving the crime rather than taking the easy route of picking a suspect and twisting the evidence to support an arrest.
Warney wasn't the only victim of the Rochester police officers' laziness. The true killer attempted two more murders while Warney was behind bars. If the police hadn't "solved" the crime the easy way, they might have captured the actual killer before he cut the throats of two more victims.
Congratulations to the Innocence Project in New York for its outstanding work in helping Warney regain his freedom.
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