innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

False Confessions

Part 5 of Series: Troy Joseph
Wrong Place, Wrong Time
East Liberty Man Confession Was Faked, Identity of Key Witness Clearing Him of Murder Was Hidden

By Bill Moushey
The Innocence Institute of Point Park University

PITTSBURGH -- One reason Troy Joseph didn’t get along with his sister’s boyfriend was the way he treated their child, so when the two had an argument while the baby slept, he asked Richard Pearson to take it outside to leave the child undisturbed.

Mr. Joseph, then 18, says that’s when a robber interceded and Richard Pearson was gunned down as he fled.

Days later, he says police got him to sign a piece of paper that became a signed murder confession and Mr. Joseph was charged, tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison despite his claims of innocence.

Nine years later he has found a key eyewitness willing to testify he not only watched the real killer shoot Mr. Pearson and flee, but that he reported it to police shortly after the murder.

Mr. Joseph says he deserves a new trial because the confession is bogus, no gun was ever found and the only witness to the murder supports his version of events.

“No matter how long it takes, I swear to prove my innocence, because of a lack of suspects and a lack of evidence, I became a victim of police trickery. A victim of the justice system and a victim of society,” he said before a judge sent him away for life.


Fight of His Life

On the rainy spring night of May 24, 1997, Mr. Pearson, the father of Mr. Joseph’s sister’s child was visiting with his child when Mr. Joseph, just back from a year in a juvenile delinquency facility for drug dealing, arrived on his bicycle to the second floor apartment to retrieve a raincoat.

Mr. Joseph never liked the way Mr. Pearson treated his sister and they also had a disagreement over payments for a drug deal, which started an argument.

Eventually, Mr. Joseph said he followed Mr. Pearson outside to settle their differences. As they reached the first floor, Mr. Joseph said he saw a man in a ski mask emerge from behind a stairwell near the main door, brandishing a gun who ordered them to give up their money.

Mr. Joseph said he sprinted out the door to nearby Larimer Ave., where he heard gunshots.

When police arrived, they found Mr. Pearson just outside the apartment building door, dead of seven gunshot wounds.

Circumstantial Guilt

They took reports from Mr. Joseph’s sister and others at the Cambria Point apartment in the city’s East Liberty section about the argument and secured a warrant for Mr. Joseph’s arrest two days later.

Joseph turned himself in and denied wrongdoing during the beginning of a six hour interrogation while he was manacled to the floor of a police interview room.

Three hours into the interrogation, he said police told him about an eyewitness implicating him; evidence enough for a first degree murder conviction and life in prison, or possibly the death sentence. No eyewitness would ever testify.

That’s when he said the cops told him if he admitted to self defense, the killing could be deemed justifiable. They said if he came clean, he could be charged with manslaughter or other lesser crimes that could reduce his prison time to as little as five years.

None of those conversations were recorded.

He says Det. Richard McDonald – who was the only one with him in the room the entire time – asked him to sign his name on some of his notes to verify when they were taken. Mr. Joseph claims that signature would later be used in court as proof that he signed a confession. Another detective testified he was in and out of the room throughout the interrogation.

Mr. Joseph thought he was going home but the signed confession was used to charge him with first degree murder. Mr. Joseph claims the cops made up his confession, something they have steadfastly denied.

In pre-trial proceedings Mr. Joseph repeatedly recanted and his lawyer tried to have the statement suppressed but it was denied by a judge.

It only took a jury four hours to convict and send him away forever.

Hidden Evidence?

As his appeals meandered through the system, Mr. Joseph encountered inmate Jacques Maynor at the State Correctional Institution at Fayette who said he was across the street from the murder and reported to police a scenario identical to Mr. Joseph’s initial statement.

Mr. Maynor, a convicted drug dealer, eventually signed a sworn affidavit that he told police he saw Mr. Joseph run from his sister’s apartment, and then watched as a masked man gunned Mr. Pearson down. He repeated that statement in an interview with Innocence Institute volunteer John Feeney, a retired Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge.

No such report was ever turned over to Mr. Joseph or his lawyer. Under rules of “discovery,” prosecutors are obliged to turn over all exculpatory evidence they possess.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel, the trial judge, denied an appeal in September 2004 based on police misconduct related to the failure to turn over Mr. Maynor’s statement because she said it had already been litigated, though Mr. Joseph did not meet Mr. Maynor until shortly before the motion was filed.

Later, in response to another appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, Judge McDaniel cast aside her earlier opinion, suggesting she denied Mr. Joseph’s appeal because it was filed late.

Fighting On His Own

At the time he met retired Judge Feeney, Mr. Joseph had no lawyer. Mr. Joseph was fighting his case with his own hand-written motions in state and federal courts to at least acquire a copy of Mr. Maynor’s original police report, or ideally win a hearing on these issues.

After he explained with amazement that he has been able to keep his case alive without a lawyer, Judge Feeney sought a lawyer for him. When that effort failed, Judge Feeney, reactivated his retired law license and agreed to represent Mr. Joseph. He recently filed a motion in which he shows proof Mr. Joseph mailed his appeal out of the prison before court deadlines and asked the Pennsylvania Superior Court for hearings on the issues surrounding the newly discovered evidence and any associated prosecutorial misconduct.

In letters, Mr. Joseph remained stoic:

“I was raped, my freedom and my life have been taken from me. I was denied a fair trial and justice did not prevail. No one will fight this fight for me except me. Against all odds I refuse to retreat or surrender because I am truly an innocent man whose life was taken by evil lies.”

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