Did Craig Michael Wood give a false confession in Hailey Owens case

May 19, 2014

Monday, May 19, 2014

Good morning:

Craig Michael Wood is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Thursday, May 22nd. The hearing was originally scheduled for April 24th, but the judge reset the hearing at the request of Wood’s attorneys because they wanted additional time to consider two new charges added by the prosecution to the three original charges: first degree murder, kidnapping and armed criminal action.

The two new charges are rape and sodomy. The prosecutor said they are based on recently available information obtained at the autopsy.

As most of my regular readers know, Wood is accused of kidnapping 10-year-old Hailey Owens as she was walking home. There appears to be no doubt that he is guilty because neighbors witnessed the abduction and described the kidnapper’s pickup truck, including providing a license plate number. Police used that plate to identify the registered owner, who turned out to be Wood’s father and he provided them with Wood’s address. They found her dead body a few hours later in the basement of Wood’s home. She had been shot in the back of the head.

I believe all of us suspected a sexual motive for the abduction and the addition of the two charges confirms our worst suspicions. Wood has apparently confessed to the crime, but his statement has not been released to the public.

Because this will almost certainly be a death penalty case, the court has appointed Patrick J. Berrigan and Thomas Jaquinot to represent Wood. Berrigan and Jaquinot are death-penalty lawyers who work for the Capital Division of the Missouri Public Defenders Office. Berrigan has considerable experience handling death cases and an excellent reputation.

They have filed a motion to exclude Wood’s statement asserting that he was drunk, drugged and mentally ill when police took him into custody, that they failed to advise him that he had a right to remain silent and refuse to answer their questions, that they ignored his request to consult with counsel before answering their questions and that they coerced him into providing a statement by promising they would go easy on him, if he cooperated and told them the truth.

Assuming for the sake of argument that the assertions are true, the statement would be inadmissible because it was involuntary and obtained in violation of the Miranda rule.

Whenever the prosecution seeks to use a defendant’s confession against him to prove guilt, one should immediately consider whether the confession contains truthful information. As the video at the beginning of this article demonstrates, false confessions are a reality and one of the causes of wrongful convictions of innocent people.

While the evidence against Mr. Wood appears to be substantial, I recommend against assuming he is guilty. For example, eyewitness identifications are notoriously unreliable and we do not know if someone else might have been involved. Forensic fraud is another major cause of wrongful convictions as are police and prosecutorial misconduct.

Therefore, watch the video and let’s see if there is any evidence that he was coerced into confessing to a crime he did not commit.

Finally, “The System with Joe Berlinger,” which premiered last night on Al Jazeera America, will explore the complexities of the U.S. criminal justice system in an eight-part series that uses real cases to question the effectiveness of laws. Looks to be an excellent documentary. Check it out.

Donations have been few and far between this month. We know times are tough and people are struggling to make ends meet because we are in the same situation. Unless you cannot afford it, please make a donation, if you appreciate our efforts to teach and keep you informed.

Fred


The Kansas City highway shootings investigation and danger of false confessions

April 18, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good morning:

The Kansas City Star is reporting this morning that police arrested a suspect yesterday at 5:40 pm in connection with a series of shootings on highways in the Kansas City area commencing March 8th and ending April 6th.

According to the article, the man has not been charged. He is an African American.

I do not know if he is the shooter or if he has confessed to committing the crimes, but I do know something about the effects of community panic, pressure on police to solve a crime or series of crimes, and false confessions.

The police offered a $10,000 reward and set-up a tip line for people to call. That strategy created 10,000 reasons for people to report anyone who appears to be suspicious to them.

Loners, oddballs, minorities, the mentally ill, the unemployed, the homeless and young people with a history of being in and out of trouble are especially vulnerable to being suspected and reported to police during times like these.

The following quote in the Star regarding the suspect arrested by police bothers me:

Neighbors said the man kept to himself and would come and go at odd hours of the night.

“The dude was like a ghost,” said neighbor Kevin Cooksey. “In and out. I’m just glad they got him.”

Cooksey said the man would drive up in the car at night, turn out the lights and sit inside without getting out.

I do not see anything suspicious in that behavior and I am more inclined to believe that Mr. Cooksey is a neighborhood busybody who needs to mind his own business rather than believe the suspect is the feared shooter. I also suspect Mr. Cooksey is white.

On January 7th and 8th of last year, I wrote about false confessions and the Phoenix Buddhist Temple murders.

I wrote:

On August 10, 1991, nine bodies were discovered at the Wat Promkunaram Buddhist Temple in the West Valley near Tucson Phoenix, AZ. The nine victims were six Buddhist monks, a nun and two acolytes.

William Hermann of The Arizona Republic described the scene.

Investigators found nine victims lying face down and grouped together, their heads pointing inward like spokes in a wheel. Some had their hands clasped in prayer. The carpet was bloody from head wounds made by .22-caliber bullets and shotgun blasts to torsos, arms and legs.

Maricopa County Sheriff’s detectives spent six days processing the crime scene. They made numerous diagrams, collected all of the shell casings, tore down walls, and removed all of the carpeting. However, despite all of their efforts they did not identify any promising suspects until a month later when they received a phone call from a patient in a mental hospital named Mike McGraw. He told them that some of his friends had committed the murders.

After the phone call, the police picked up McGraw and four of his friends: Mark Nunez (age 19), Dante Parker (age 20), Leo Bruce (age 28), and Victor Zarate (age 28). Over the course of three days of grueling nonstop interrogations from 9 pm to dawn, they eventually obtained confessions from four of the five suspects by refusing to take “no” for an answer and, after breaking them down, they committed the additional sin of providing them with some details of the crime that only the killers would know so that their confessions would be self-authenticating. Only Mark Nunez Victor Zarate failed to succumb to their tactics, so they released him and then they held a big press conference where they triumphantly announced that they had solved the murders.

Six weeks later their case against the Tucson Four, who had subsequently recanted their confessions, fell apart when the crime lab announced that it had identified the murder weapon.

How did that happen, you ask?

On August 21st police had confiscated a .22 caliber rifle from two West Valley boys, Rolando Caratachea and Johnathan Doody, after stopping them at Luke Air Force Base. When the crime lab finally got around to testing the rifle, the analyst discovered that that it was the murder weapon.

The next day, detectives picked up Caratachea (the owner of the gun), Doody and a third boy, Alessandro Garcia, and subjected them to the same non-stop interrogation tactics. Two days later, Garcia confessed that he and Doody did the shootings. Doody admitted that he was present but denied shooting anyone. Caratachea denied being involved.

Three weeks later, Garcia confessed to another murder. Katharine Ramsland reports he told the police that two months after the temple massacre,

he and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Michelle Hoover, had murdered Alice Cameron, 50, in a campground. Garcia had goaded Michelle to do it, so she had pulled the trigger. They waited an hour to be sure the woman was dead and then stole her money, which amounted to $20. Michelle pleaded guilty and got 15 years.

As in the case of the Tucson Four, police had coerced an innocent man into falsely confessing to killing Hoover. He was released after serving more than a year in prison.

One month later the prosecution dismissed the charges against the Tucson Four and released them from jail.

Garcia and Doody, who were juveniles, were charged with the murders. Their cases were transferred to adult court due to the seriousness of the charges and the prosecution announced that it would seek the death penalty against both defendants.

Garcia eventually entered into a plea agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to first degree murder and testify against Doody in exchange for the prosecution agreeing not to seek the death penalty against him.

Doody was convicted. The judge declined to impose the death penalty because he was not certain whether Doody was more culpable than Garcia. He sentenced him to 281 years in prison. Garcia was sentenced to 271 years in prison.

In May, 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Doody’s conviction on the ground that his confession was coerced. The Court remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial. The SCOTUS denied review.

His case has not been resolved.

The Tucson Four sued Maricopa County and the case settled for $2.8 million.

The man who falsely confessed to the Hoover murder also received a settlement.

Please do not misunderstand. I hope the police have arrested the right person in the Kansas City highway shootings case. I am merely using this arrest and the comment by the suspicious neighbor to illustrate how community pressure to solve a case and aggressive police questioning of a suspect in response to that pressure can create a false confession.

There will be a news conference later today, perhaps this morning, when police announce additional information about the suspect and the case against him.

If you are interested in reading more about false confessions, please google the name Dr. Richard Ofshe or go to falseconfessions.org

This is our 982nd post and we are rapidly closing in on our 1,000th post. If you appreciate our work and have not made a donation this month, please take this opportunity to do so.

Thank you,

Fred


False Confessions II: The Phoenix Buddhist Temple Massacre (UPDATED)

January 8, 2013

On August 10, 1991, nine bodies were discovered at the Wat Promkunaram Buddhist Temple in the West Valley near Tucson Phoenix, AZ. The nine victims were six Buddhist monks, a nun and two acolytes.

William Hermann of The Arizona Republic described the scene.

Investigators found nine victims lying face down and grouped together, their heads pointing inward like spokes in a wheel. Some had their hands clasped in prayer. The carpet was bloody from head wounds made by .22-caliber bullets and shotgun blasts to torsos, arms and legs.

Maricopa County Sheriff’s detectives spent six days processing the crime scene. They made numerous diagrams, collected all of the shell casings, tore down walls, and removed all of the carpeting. However, despite all of their efforts they did not identify any promising suspects until a month later when they received a phone call from a patient in a mental hospital named Mike McGraw. He told them that some of his friends had committed the murders.

After the phone call, the police picked up McGraw and four of his friends: Mark Nunez (age 19), Dante Parker (age 20), Leo Bruce (age 28), and Victor Zarate (age 28). Over the course of three days of grueling nonstop interrogations from 9 pm to dawn, they eventually obtained confessions from four of the five suspects by refusing to take “no” for an answer and, after breaking them down, they committed the additional sin of providing them with some details of the crime that only the killers would know so that their confessions would be self-authenticating. Only Mark Nunez Victor Zarate failed to succumb to their tactics, so they released him and then they held a big press conference where they triumphantly announced that they had solved the murders.

Six weeks later their case against the Tucson Four, who had subsequently recanted their confessions, fell apart when the crime lab announced that it had identified the murder weapon.

How did that happen, you ask?

On August 21st police had confiscated a .22 caliber rifle from two West Valley boys, Rolando Caratachea and Johnathan Doody, after stopping them at Luke Air Force Base. When the crime lab finally got around to testing the rifle, the analyst discovered that that it was the murder weapon.

The next day, detectives picked up Caratachea (the owner of the gun), Doody and a third boy, Alessandro Garcia, and subjected them to the same non-stop interrogation tactics. Two days later, Garcia confessed that he and Doody did the shootings. Doody admitted that he was present but denied shooting anyone. Caratachea denied being involved.

Three weeks later, Garcia confessed to another murder. Katharine Ramsland reports he told the police that two months after the temple massacre,

he and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Michelle Hoover, had murdered Alice Cameron, 50, in a campground. Garcia had goaded Michelle to do it, so she had pulled the trigger. They waited an hour to be sure the woman was dead and then stole her money, which amounted to $20. Michelle pleaded guilty and got 15 years.

As in the case of the Tucson Four, police had coerced an innocent man into falsely confessing to killing Hoover. He was released after serving more than a year in prison.

One month later the prosecution dismissed the charges against the Tucson Four and released them from jail.

Garcia and Doody, who were juveniles, were charged with the murders. Their cases were transferred to adult court due to the seriousness of the charges and the prosecution announced that it would seek the death penalty against both defendants.

Garcia eventually entered into a plea agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to first degree murder and testify against Doody in exchange for the prosecution agreeing not to seek the death penalty against him.

Doody was convicted. The judge declined to impose the death penalty because he was not certain whether Doody was more culpable than Garcia. He sentenced him to 281 years in prison. Garcia was sentenced to 271 years in prison.

In May, 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Doody’s conviction on the ground that his confession was coerced. The Court remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial. The SCOTUS denied review.

His case has not been resolved.

The Tucson Four sued Maricopa County and the case settled for $2.8 million.

The man who falsely confessed to the Hoover murder also received a settlement.

Those of you who are interested in reading more about false confessions, please google the name Dr. Richard Ofshe or go to falseconfessions.org

UPDATE: I have edited the article to make the following corrections: The temple is located in the West Valley, near Phoenix. Victor Zarate, rather than Mark Nunez, refused to confess and was released.


False Confessions: Part I

January 7, 2013

False confessions is one of the seven causes of wrongful convictions of innocent people. The others are mistaken eyewitness identifications, forensic fraud, police misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective assistance of counsel and jailhouse informants.

The Innocence Project, which was co-founded by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld in the late 80s at the Benjamin Cardozo Law School in New York City, has freed 301 wrongfully convicted people by proving their innocence with post-conviction DNA testing. They have discovered that false confessions alone or in combination with one or more of the other six causes are present in 25% of the wrongful convictions. They have identified the following reasons why innocent people confess to crimes they did not commit:

1. Duress

2. Coercion

3. Intoxication

4. Diminished Capacity

5. Mental Impairment

6. Ignorance of the Law

7. Fear of Violence

8. Infliction of Harm

9. Threat of a Harsh Sentence

10. Misunderstanding the situation

They explain:

•Some false confessions can be explained by the mental state of the confessor.

•Confessions obtained from juveniles are often unreliable – children can be easy to manipulate and are not always fully aware of their situation. Children and adults both are often convinced that that they can “go home” as soon as they admit guilt.

•People with mental disabilities have often falsely confessed because they are tempted to accommodate and agree with authority figures. Further, many law enforcement interrogators are not given any special training on questioning suspects with mental disabilities. An impaired mental state due to mental illness, drugs or alcohol may also elicit false admissions of guilt.

•Mentally capable adults also give false confessions due to a variety of factors like the length of interrogation, exhaustion or a belief that they can be released after confessing and prove their innocence later.

Regardless of the age, capacity or state of the confessor, what they often have in common is a decision – at some point during the interrogation process – that confessing will be more beneficial to them than continuing to maintain their innocence.

From threats to torture
Sometimes law enforcement use harsh interrogation tactics with uncooperative suspects. But some police officers, convinced of a suspect’s guilt, occasionally use tactics so persuasive that an innocent person feels compelled to confess. Some suspects have confessed to avoid physical harm or discomfort. Others are told they will be convicted with or without a confession, and that their sentence will be more lenient if they confess. Some are told a confession is the only way to avoid the death penalty.

They feature the case of Eddie Joe Floyd, who confessed and was convicted of killing a 16-year-old girl in 1984:

Innocence Project client Eddie Joe Lloyd served 17 years in Michigan prison for a murder and rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his release in 2002.

Lloyd was convicted of a brutal 1984 murder of a sixteen-year-old girl in Detroit, Michigan. While in a hospital receiving treatment for his mental illness, Lloyd wrote to police with suggestions on how to solve various murders, including the murder for which he was convicted. Police officers visited and interrogated him several times in the hospital. During the course of these interrogations, police officers allowed Lloyd to believe that, by confessing and getting arrested, he would help them “smoke out” the real perpetrator. They fed him details that he could not have known, including the location of the body, the type of jeans the victim was wearing, a description of earrings the victim wore, and other details from the crime scene. Lloyd signed a written confession and gave a tape recorded statement as well.

At trial, the prosecution played the confession to the jury and claimed that Lloyd had killed the victim in order to get away with the rape. The forensic evidence consisted a semen stain on longjohns used to strangle the victim and a bottle that was forced into the victim, and a piece of paper with a semen stain that was stuck to the bottle. The only testing presented at trial consisted of confirming the presence of semen and other biological matter.

Lloyd was represented during pre-trial by a court-appointed attorney who received $150 for pre-trial preparation and investigation. This attorney gave $50 of this to a convicted felon, who conducted no investigation into Lloyd’s mental state or confession.

This lawyer withdrew from the case eight days before trial, but another attorney was appointed and the trial was not postponed. The trial attorney did not meet with the pre-trial attorney. He did not question the details of the investigation and did not cross-examine the police officer most directly involved in the coerced confession. He called no defense witnesses and gave a five minute closing argument. The jury deliberated for less than an hour before convicting him of first degree felony murder in May 1985.

Lloyd’s attorney lamented in the press that his client would not permit an insanity defense, saying, “With a psychiatric plea, we might have had a chance. If he’s not goofy, there’s not a dog in Texas.” Lloyd insisted that, despite his mental illness, he was innocent.

At the time of sentencing, Judge Leonard Townsend complained that the court’s hands were tied since he could only sentence Lloyd to life imprisonment rather than what he believed was the “only justifiable sentence,” which was “termination by extreme con[striction]” (i.e. hanging). With regard to Michigan’s repeal of the death penalty, Townsend added, “And on account of this case, a lot of people who had reservations about capital punishment have been convinced that they should jump over the fence and sign petitions. The sentence the statute requires is inadequate. I cannot impose the sentence that the facts call for in this matter.”

When asked if he had anything to say, Lloyd answered, “Into each life tears must fall. That means on both sides. MJ [the victim] had a right to live, as we all do…she said goodbye…and disappeared in the darkness never to be seen again alive. One day later she was found in a vacant garage. Cold, alone, and lifeless…Eddie Lloyd was focused on as a suspect while he was a mental patient and somewhere along the line was he was charged and convicted of the crime, a heinous crime, brutal. What I want to say to the court is that, to the family, MJ, to the city of Detroit, to everybody who was involved with the case, I did not kill MJ. I never killed anybody in my life and I wouldn’t.”

An attorney appointed to file Lloyd’s direct appeal did not visit Lloyd in prison or raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Lloyd wrote to the court saying his appellate assistance was lacking, and the appellate attorney wrote that Lloyd should not be taken seriously because he was “guilty and should die.”

All of Lloyd’s appeals failed. Lloyd contacted the Innocence Project in 1995, seeking assistance in having the biological evidence subjected to DNA testing. For years, Project students searched for the evidence. Finally, a number of evidence items were found with assistance from the Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

DNA testing conducted by Forensic Science Associates, and confirmed by the Michigan State Crime Lab, found the same unknown male profile from sperm cells on the broken glass bottle, the piece of paper, the stain on the longjohns, and samples collected from the victim’s body during the autopsy. Each of these profiles excluded Eddie Joe Lloyd.

He was exonerated and released on August 26, 2002, after serving 17 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn’t commit. Sadly, he passed away just two years later.

In tomorrow’s post, False Confessions II, I will discuss the Phoenix Temple Massacre.


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