innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Thursday, September 14, 2006

DNA Lab Swamped

This article appeared in the LA Times on Thursday, September 14, 2006.
Massive Backlog Plagues DNA Lab

A lack of funds for the state's voter-approved database leaves crimes unsolved, some say.

By Henry Weinstein, Times Staff Writer September 14, 2006

Two years after California set out to create a vast DNA database to help unravel thousands of unsolved crimes, the program is being severely hampered by a lack of resources, officials across the state say.The state crime lab has a backlog of more than a quarter-million DNA samples it is unable to process because of a funding shortfall and a lack of manpower, directors acknowledge. At its current rate, the lab would need 2 1/2 years to clear the backlog — if it received no more samples. But that is unlikely because it is taking in about 20,000 samples a month, officials said.

State officials, Los Angeles police officers and the director of a rape treatment center in Santa Monica say the backlog means that crimes are going unsolved and that criminals who could be arrested may still be walking the streets.

"There will come a time when we will be sitting on a case where we have the offender profile and we are waiting for a match in [the database] who is among the 300,000 unprocessed samples and this offender will strike again," said Tim Marcia, a veteran detective in the LAPD's cold-case unit who has used DNA to solve rapes and murders.

The problems stem from overly optimistic funding projections when California voters in November 2004 resoundingly passed Proposition 69, designed to make the state the nation's leader in the use of DNA technology as a crime-solving tool.

Proposition 69 requires all convicted felons, certain misdemeanor offenders and those arrested for rape or murder to give up DNA samples. Prison officials swab offenders' mouths with an object called a buccal which looks like a tongue depressor. The samples are subjected to genetic testing, and the results are uploaded into the FBI laboratory's Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS. DNA evidence from crime scenes can be run against the database for matches that will help identify suspects.

More than 285,000 DNA samples have been added to the database, and the program has yielded 2,670 "hits" in some long-languishing cases. But despite those successes, the funding problems have resulted in a backlog of more than 287,000 unprocessed DNA samples.

"Proposition 69 is the gold standard model for the world, but full and robust implementation is currently hamstrung," said Bruce Harrington, the Newport Beach home developer who financed the ballot measure in 2004 and continues to "hope that DNA will help solve the 1980 murder of my brother Keith and his wife, Patty."

Harrington said the primary reason for the backlog is that the state crime lab in Richmond, under its union contracts, pays dramatically lower salaries than local crime labs, making it difficult to hire young scientists and hang onto more experienced ones.

Lance Gima, director of forensic services for the state attorney general, said the starting salary at the Richmond lab is $3,100, compared with $4,600 a month at the Los Angeles Police Department laboratory and $4,200 a month at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Labs in large Northern California cities also pay more than the state, Gima said.

Although the program was supposed to pay for itself, it has not been fully funded. Under the law, the counties were to turn over $1 of every $10 in misdemeanor fines to a "penalty pot," amassing an estimated $25 million a year for the project. Instead, for reasons that are unclear, not all the counties are contributing, and the penalty pot stands at only $7.5 million.

A new state law allocates another $1 for each additional $10 in fines. Harrington and Gima called that a positive step but said it will not ensure that the fines are collected and the money sent to the state.

The problem will probably get worse in 2009, when officials, as part of Proposition 69, will start taking samples from all persons arrested on any felony, not just those convicted of felonies. In 2004, the latest year for which figures were available, there were 522,781 felony arrests in California.

For Gail Abarbanel, director of the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, the program has been a source of both exhilaration — some rape cases have been solved rapidly — and enormous frustration.

"We have the law, the technology and the voice of the public behind Prop. 69, but we also have a lot of valuable DNA evidence waiting to be processed," Abarbanel said. Consequently, she said, the program has not come close to fulfilling its potential to "put California in the forefront of utilizing the science of DNA to enhance public safety."

For the whole story, click here

Post-Gazette Owners Talk of Sale

This article ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Thursday, September 14, 2006

Post-Gazette Says Lack of Labor Pacts Could Force Sale

Management of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette announced today that it was "prepared to take steps to put the paper up for sale" if it did not have labor agreements with its unions by Dec. 31.
Contracts covering more than 1,100 unionized workers expire at the end of the year, and the paper's management said contracts that significantly reduce expenses are necessary because the Post-Gazette has lost almost $23 million since 2003.

The paper has lost nearly $12 million in the first eight months of this year.
Tracey DeAngelo, director of marketing for the Post-Gazette, said the company made proposals to the unions in March but has not received substantive counter-offers.

"The Post-Gazette emphasized today that the unions need to begin constructive labor negotiations as soon as possible because the current owners are prepared to put the newspaper up for sale if the unions fail to reach new contract agreements by Dec. 31," according to a news release from the company.

Fourteen unions represent 954 full-time and 172 part-time workers.
The unions, represented by a Unity Council, have said the company's proposals go beyond pay and benefit concessions and would gut most of the job protections the unions have won through bargaining over the years. Union leaders met with the company in March but decided not to continue over the summer as long as the company refused to adjust its original proposal.
The unions have not threatened to strike.

Union contracts carry specific dates when bargaining must begin, and Ms. DeAngelo said she was not aware of any unions refusing to go to the table when required. Most are required to begin talks by the fall.

Ms. DeAngelo said the last year the paper made a profit was 2002, and it has made money in only six of the past 13 years. She attributed that primarily to employee costs that she said are substantially above the industry average for comparable newspapers.
She also acknowledged revenue has declined because of such changes as the loss of Kauffman's department store advertising. She said the company would be trying new strategies to increase revenue but couldn't disclose them.

Ms. DeAngelo said she knew of no plans to make management changes.
The Post-Gazette's owner, Block Communications, Inc., is involved in bitter negotiations with its paper in Toledo, Ohio, The Blade. Contracts there expired in March, and the company has locked some of the unions out of the building, handling their work with management and replacement workers.

The Post-Gazette is Western Pennsylvania's largest daily newspaper, with a circulation of 235,901 daily and 398,011 Sunday.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

False Confessions

Part 12 of Series: John Miller
When Confessions
Fall on Deaf Ears
Philadelphia Man Remains Imprisoned
Despite Snitch Who Claims Responsibility
For Murder

By Bridget DiCosmo
The Innocence Institute of Point Park University

David Williams had information only the killer would know when he told police his childhood pal John Miller confessed to the 1996 murder of a Philadelphia parking lot attendant.

At trial, a guilt-ridden Mr. Williams recanted his entire story, testifying his friend knew nothing about the killing, but prosecutors successfully persuaded the jury to stick with his original statement, convicted Mr. Miller and sentenced him to life behind bars.

Years later at an appeals hearing, Mr. Williams – also incarcerated for unrelated crimes –confessed to the killing, calling it a case of self defense.

Despite the fact Mr. Miller’s conviction stems from a confession that never occurred, his appeals have been denied because the judge said he only believed Mr. Williams first statement, charging him with perjury even though he implicated himself in a murder.

The confessor persisted from prison.

“John Miller knows nothing about the death of Anthony Mullen. Nothing,” Mr. Williams said in a letter and an interview with the Innocence Institute of Point Park University, a partnership with the Post-Gazette where students learn investigative reporting by probing into allegations of wrongful convictions and systematic abuses.

One Bite of the Apple System

The image of criminals escaping on minor legal technicalities is ubiquitous, but the reality is, few cases are actually overturned despite years of costly appeals – even when someone else confesses.

Last year, of the 4,500 cases appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, only 14.6 percent were reversed. Of those denied, less than 400 continued on to plead their case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that reversed only a fraction of that number.

“It’s approaching the point of impossibility,” said John Packel, former Chief of Appeals for the Philadelphia Public Defender’s Office.

Mr. Packel said hurdles of waivers, time constraints, and the court’s reluctance to overrule a judge’s decision on appeal combine to present “a grim picture for criminal defendants.”

Friend Ends Up With Life

Mr. Miller and Mr. Williams grew up 50 yards away from one another in the same drug riddled South Philadelphia neighborhood.

Mr. Miller says he never met Mr. Mullen, a 49-year-old parking attendant, but Mr. Williams says he knew him in the world of buying and selling drugs.

At the time Mr. Mullen was felled by a single shot to the chest, Mr. Miller says he was three miles away arguing with his now ex-fiancé.

Five months later, Mr. Williams, facing a slew of robbery charges, pointed the finger at Mr. Miller in the hopes of getting a deal.

Mr. Williams said Mr. Miller told him he killed Mr. Mullen with a gun he’d gotten from another neighborhood teen. He said Mr. Miller showed him a cut on his hand that he suffered during a fight with Mr. Mullen before he shot him.

When they picked up Mr. Miller based on Mr. William’s statements, he had a scar on his hand. The gun was never found.

By Mr. Miller’s preliminary hearing in October1997, Mr. William’s story collapsed.

Having already been sentenced to eight to 16 years on the armed robberies, which is a fraction of the time he could have served, Mr. Williams said the man he implicated never confessed to him. He said he made the original statement – with information he watched on television – with hopes of achieving a reduction of his sentence.

Despite the recantation, Mr. Miller was held for trial on the strength of Mr. Williams’ initial incriminating statements.

At Mr. Miller’s jury trial a year later, Mr. Williams repeated his recantation and also said police fed information about the murder to him during a threatening and intimidating interrogation that was not recorded. He denied knowing anything about Mr. Miller’s involvement in the killing. Philadelphia Police did not respond to written questions.

“That conversation never happened. I can’t explain it no better than that. It never happened,” Mr. Williams said years later in a prison interview.

In addition to Mr. William’s early statement, prosecutors pushed circumstantial evidence like the scar on Mr. Miller’s hand, and testimony to place the gun that was never found in his possession; even though no fingerprints or physical evidence tied him to the crime.

After a three-day trial, Mr. Miller was convicted of 2nd degree murder and related crimes and sentenced to life in prison.

The Truth Doesn’t Set Him Free

In the aftermath of her son’s conviction, Velma Miller and others said word swirled through their neighborhood it was Mr. Williams who did the killing.

In 2002, two childhood friends of both men signed sworn statements stating shortly after the murder, a “fidgety” Mr. Williams was trying to sell a black handgun because he’d “shot somebody down at 30th Street,” said one of them.

Then Mrs. Miller received a letter from Mr. Williams in which he confessed to the killing for the first time.

In a prison interview, Mr. Williams said he was trying to collect a $100 drug debt from Mr. Mullen the night of his death.

He said an intoxicated Mr. Mullen, angry at being accosted at work; pulled a gun and fired at Mr. Williams three times before the weapon appeared to jam.

As he was fleeing the barrage, Mr. Williams said he fired one parting shot at Mr. Mullen from his own weapon.

“I didn’t even stay to see if or where he was hit,” Mr. Williams said.

A gun and three spent shells found at the scene partially corroborate Mr. Williams’ story, as do toxicology reports showing Mr. Mullen was heavily intoxicated at the time of his death.

At the time, Mr. Williams said he was embroiled in a dispute with Mr. Miller because he had stolen from him. During a scuffle, Mr. Miller cut his hand, giving him the scar that Mr. Williams would use against him in the murder probe. Knowing police did not have the murder weapon because he sold it, he made up a story putting it in Mr. Miller’s hands.

At a post-conviction hearing, Mr. Williams repeated his recantation under oath, but not only misidentified the dead man’s race, but the dead man’s clothing the night he died. He said his mistakes were a result of his confusion during cross examination.

After listening to Mr. Williams and two others corroborating his confession, Philadelphia County Common Pleas Judge John J. Poserina Jr. declared all testimony unbelievable and denied the appeal.

No One Listens

Mr. Williams was convicted of perjury and sentenced to one and a half to three years on top of his other terms. He will be released soon and plans to enroll at Lockhaven University.

“I’m terribly sorry [that this happened.] And justice should be served, but the wrong person shouldn’t have to serve it,” said Mr. Williams, a slim, soft-spoken 28-year-old during an interview last summer at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview.

Mrs. Miller remains angry no one will listen to Mr. Williams, especially since he is now implicating himself.

She refuses to give up: “I’m gonna keep fighting till somebody hears me.”

False Confessions

Part 11 of Series: John Moss
Multiple Confessions
In Triple Murder
Probe Provoke Questions:
Did Juvenile Do It?

By Elizabeth Perry
The Innocence Institute of Point Park University

An outlaw motorcycle club associate, Paul Reggettz, 35, worked for UPS, while his wife, Vanessa, 26, cared for their two children. He later admitted he repeatedly beat his wife and abused his family, once telling his son “he wished he’d never been born.”

Twelve days before Christmas in 1979, Mr. Reggettz told police he found the murdered bodies of Mrs. Reggettz, Paul Eric, 7, and Bernadette, 4, in their St. Albans, West Virginia home.

Mrs. Reggettz, 5-foot-tall and 94 pounds, was beaten strangled with an extension chord and stabbed with household scissors. Her son was choked with a power chord from a radio and drowned. Her daughter was strangled with a vacuum cleaner cord and hanged on a door facing their Christmas tree.

A Deeply Flawed Investigation

State Police immediately suspected Mr. Reggettz because he was deep in debt, had numerous domestic problems and showed no emotion after summoning them.

After 14 ½ in custody, when he said he was tossed on the ground and had a gun held to his head, Mr. Reggettz confessed.

He said an argument that began with his wife over the children’s rambunctious play escalated after she pulled his hunting rifle on him. He grabbed the gun, beat her with and stabbed her with scissors to be certain she was dead.

Mr. Reggettz told police he bound and strangled his son then put him in a water filled tub because Paul Eric “liked to swim.” Bernadette had been hung by her neck because she “liked to swing.”

The next morning, he reenacted the killings for the officers at his home and was charged with all three murders.

Later, Mr. Reggettz testified police led him through the confessions after he decided to “Tell them whatever they wanted to hear so they would leave me alone.”

Bloody Questions

While police had a confession and a motive, one piece didn’t fit – blood collected at the scene by a Fred Zain, a West Virginia Crime Lab specialist who would later face numerous challenges about his work, did not match any family member.

Concurrently, Mr. Moss’s uncle told police his delinquent nephew was in the area prior to his incarceration for the rape and shooting of a female bus driver and might know something.

In the prison, troopers secured three vials of his blood and Mr. Zain ruled blood splatters from the crime scene matched Mr. Moss.

Not yet ready to file murder charges, troopers saw an opportunity to talk with Mr. Moss, who was incarcerated in Ohio on a violent assault case, when they saw he had a court date in an unrelated case that later was dropped.

On the six hour drive he was interrogated without a lawyer or parent present and claims he was beaten while in handcuffs until he confessed to the Reggettz murders.

Stop the Tape

The 27-minute taped confession took an hour to record because troopers testified they stopped the tape “two or three times” to clarify things that originally conflicted with the physical evidence.

When asked what else he did to Mrs. Reggettz, who was stabbed with scissors, Mr. Moss replied, “I stabbed her with a knife or something.” When asked again if he remembered what he stabbed her with, Mr. Moss said, “No, I don’t know, I stabbed her.” Recently, he said he did not know what happened to Mrs. Reggettz, but police coached him before and during his confession.

Two days later other troopers testified he confessed again, though neither recorded this second confession on tape or in writing, and Mr. Moss denied it.

Thirteen days later, Judge John Hey, who later surrendered his law license for drinking on the bench, released Mr. Reggettz after he passed the second lie detector test. He failed the first one.

Trial By Error

After four years, West Virginia prosecutors succeeded in certifying Mr. Moss as an adult and his trial began in February 1984, with his lawyers trying to shift blame to Mr. Reggettz due to his own confessions.

On the stand, Mr. Reggettz admitted he fought with his wife and frequently beat her, but insisted he did not kill his family. He said he confessed not out of guilt but fear.

After a jury listened to Mr. Moss’ taped confession, he denied the crimes and said he confessed because of police abuse.

The blood evidence sealed Mr. Moss’ fate when Mr. Zain, a serologist, tied blood found at the scene to the teenager who says he wasn’t there.

On April 30, 1984, Mr. Moss was convicted of the murders and sentenced to three life sentences. He won a second trial in 1990 because of prejudicial out of court comments by a prosecutor, only to be convicted again.

In his closing arguments of the second trial, the prosecutor told a jury even if they discounted the confessions: “Look at the blood; look at the reliability of the blood, ladies and gentlemen.”

Discredited Serologist

Three years later, a wide-ranging investigation revealed Mr. Zain, the serologist, repeatedly faked forensic evidence he did not test properly.

Gary Wells, a psychology professor at Iowa State University and expert in identification issues who’s written about the Zain scandal, said the supposed expert failed organic chemistry.

“Fred Zain couldn’t do these tests, he didn’t know how, he just made them up.” said Mr. Wells.

The West Virginia Supreme Court issued a decree in 1993 condemning any testimony or evidence offered by Mr. Zain as “invalid, unreliable and inadmissible” and barred its use in deciding whether or not to award a new trial after a panel investigating 30 cases in which he was involved and found he falsified evidence in all.

Appeals Denied

Mr. Moss’ appealed, but was denied because of his confession and Mr. Zain’s work in his case had been aided and supervised by another serologist. Mr. Zain died in 2002.

Mr. Moss, now 52, maintains he is innocent and refuses to give up.

When asked about his confidence in Mr. Moss’ conviction, Judge James Stuckey, the prosecuting attorney in the first trial remained: “Very confident, I don’t hesitate; I don’t have a doubt in my mind that the juries made the right decision. Zain has certainly given me pause with scientific evidence and death penalty, but not with John Moss.”

False Confessions

Part 10 of Series: Jeffrey Cristina
Without Recordings:
Pressure Turns Friends Into Confessors

By Cynthia Levy
The Innocence Institute of Point Park University

In December 1975 when Frank Slazinski returned to his Lawrenceville home after a lengthy hospital stay caused by a beating he took from robbers, they struck again.

This time, the 82-year-old retiree was bludgeoned with a blackjack before his assailants took $15 and a television set, which was never recovered.

He managed to tell his daughter two kids were responsible, and flashed cops two fingers before he died four days later.

As weeks became months with no arrests, three Butler Street youths were among a handful of suspects. James “Red” Phillips, 19, a neighborhood bully, William Pirozzi, 17, whose mother worked at the restaurant where Mr. Slazinski regularly ate and knew he just got a new television, and Jeffrey Cristina, 17, the new kid on the block with a clean record.

By the time detectives filed charges against all three, they’d amassed a total of six confessions – some recorded, some not -- riddled with contradictions and lies. Charges were dropped before trial against Mr. Phillips and Mr. Pirozzi entered a guilty plea for a three-year prison hitch.

Mr. Cristina, who maintained his innocence, was the only one to go to trial because his father would not let him plead guilty. Despite another series of confusing recantations, he was convicted as an adult and sentenced to life behind bars.

He remains confounded by his conviction and devastated his claims of innocence have escaped examination by appeals courts.

Killing for Nothing

The first to be arrested was Mr. Phillips. He was charged, passed a polygraph test – which is inadmissible in court—and was released seven days later after charges were dropped.

Mr. Cristina was brought in next. Officers taped the interview and his father was present. He said Mr. Phillips kidnapped him and Mr. Slazinski in a car and beat him during a 45 minute siege.

Court documents suggest Mr. Pirozzi partially corroborated his story, saying he tried to help Mr. Cristina get out of a car driven by Mr. Phillips.

The following day Mr. Cristina was questioned again, without his parents.

He abandoned the kidnapping story; instead stating on a tape machine he says was repeatedly turned on and off, he was standing outside the victim’s apartment with Mr. Pirozzi when Mr. Phillips told them he was going in to “collect some money.”

When he heard a crack inside the apartment, Mr. Cristina told police he saw Mr. Phillips beating the old man with a blackjack. Mr. Cristina led police to the hidden blackjack saying Mr. Pirozzi asked him to hide it after the beating.

Then Mr. Pirozzi changed his story too. He said Mr. Phillips kicked in the apartment door and went in, but wasn’t sure if Mr. Cristina did too.

The next day, both added another twist in their third statements to police, claiming they served as lookouts, but fled when the beating began. Both were charged with murder based on their admissions.

In the Shuman Detention Center, awaiting trial, Mr. Pirozzi offered police yet another version where he was clearly being led by investigators. This time he left Mr. Phillips out of the murder plot, and said Mr. Cristina was the killer.

Trial of Lies

Despite all of his previous statements, Mr. Pirozzi implicated Mr. Cristina in the killing. Prosecutors also used Mr. Cristina’s final statement in which he admitted being a look-out as a confession.

While Mr. Pirozzi pointed the finger at Mr. Cristina, he couldn’t keep straight how much money was taken and if Mr. Cristina possessed a blackjack.

After being drilled about the inconsistencies and replying “I don’t know” to more than a dozen questions asked by both attorneys, Mr. Pirozzi was asked which story was true.

“None of it is,” he said, sobbing.

After a break to regain his composure, he again implicated Mr. Cristina in the killing and insisted after all the lies, he was now being truthful.

Mr. Cristina took the stand and said after telling numerous lies, he finally wanted “to tell the truth.” Now he admitted attempting to rob Mr. Slazinski with Mr. Pirozzi, but said both fled after the elderly man beat Mr. Pirozzi with a cane.

Fifteen minutes later, he testified, he gave Mr. Pirozzi the black jack which was used in the killing. Days later, he said Mr. Pirozzi told him he and Mr. Phillips killed the elderly gentleman.

Mr. Cristina was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

In June, Mr. Pirozzi told Innocence Institute reporters he faced such pressure during interrogation he’s blocked out the memories and wishes to be hypnotized to figure out what really happened.

Mr. Pirozzi did remember certain elements of the case when specific instances were broached, even though he said he was drunk and on medication during his initial interrogation.

Today, he doesn’t remember lying under oath (and admitting it), nor does he recall penning a letter to Mr. Cristina’s brother while awaiting trial where he wrote that since he was in Carrick with his girlfriend the night of the murder, that he, “don’t know if Jeff was there that night.”
“I was brainwashed,” said Pirozzi about his lack of recall during what he said were “long, long hours” of questioning.

Post-trial Discoveries

As Mr. Cristina was shipped to prison, information about Mr. Phillips and Mr. Pirozzi began to emerge.

A woman told police Mr. Pirozzi implicated Mr. Cristina because Mr. Phillips threatened to kill a family member. She also said Mr. Phillips threatened her after she visited Mr. Pirozzi in jail.

During his pre-sentence investigation, Mr. Pirozzi confessed again to an Allegheny County psychologist, this time his story matched much of what Mr. Cristina said on the witness stand.

Mr. Pirozzi told the psychologist he borrowed the blackjack from Mr. Cristina, to commit the robbery with Mr. Phillips. He told the counselor Mr. Cristina declined participation. He said after the robbery, they left Mr. Slazinski unharmed, but Mr. Phillips returned and beat him to death.

Afterwards, Mr. Pirozzi told the psychologist Mr. Phillips threatened him and told him to blame the crime on Mr. Cristina.

In a later letter to Mr. Cristina’s sentencing judge, the psychologist, Jay Greenfield, said the case “left a great weight on him” and he worried Mr. Cristina got a “bum rap.”

Dr. Greenfield also revealed in pre-sentencing reports both teenagers repeatedly failed lie detector tests stating, they “blew the machine up.”

In October 1989 after 13 years in prison, Mr. Cristina filed for and was unanimously approved for commutation by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Board of Pardons; but former Gov. Tom Ridge denied it.

Mr. Cristina’s appeals are exhausted and without extraordinary judicial relief, he will never be freed.

“I was brought up believing that the justice system was correct and true, so during my trial and everything leading up to it, I always thought everything would work out and that they would find the truth. That didn’t happen,” said Mr. Cristina.

False Confessions

Part 9 of series
Juvenile Confessions
Fear and Loathing Without Representation Leads To Admissions They Now Contest

By Bill Moushey, Elizabeth Perry and Cynthia Levy
The Innocence Institute of Point Park University

In 1976, Billy Pirozzi, 17, became so fearful without his parents present during police interrogations over the murder of an elderly Lawrenceville man, he confessed, though he changed his story four times, falsely implicated a friend in the murder and now says none of it is true.

That friend, 17-year-old Jeffrey Cristina, also repeatedly lied, but said he wasn’t the killer, maintaining his innocence all the way to his conviction as an adult and life in prison.

After 19 hours of interrogation without a lawyer, Paul Reggettz confessed then reenacted the gruesome 1979 murders of his wife and two children at his ramshackle West Virginia house before recanting the next day, saying he confessed only after police held a gun to his head.

However, ten months later 17-year-old convict John Moss, also interrogated without a parent or attorney, accused police of beating a confession out of him in the same homicides, causing Mr. Reggettz to walk free and him to be sent away for life.

In Mr. Cristina and Mr. Moss’ cases police admit the juveniles confessed without parents or attorneys, but deny using physical or mental coercion. After three decades, three trials and dozens of appeals there is no clear record of what happened – or if justice was served -- because interrogations were not taped from beginning to end.

Experts Question Juvenile Interrogations

Nationwide, a series of scientific reports and other analyses conducted since Mr. Cristina and Mr. Moss were incarcerated increasingly suggest children are prone to confess falsely under pressure, especially if they are questioned without parents or attorneys.

Steven A. Drizin, false confession expert and legal director of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions said “juveniles tend to be more suggestible than adults,” explaining they have trouble understanding consequences and just want interrogations to end.

A 2003 University of Michigan study on exonerations in the United States shows 44% of juveniles later exonerated falsely confessed compared to 13% of adults.

While many Pennsylvania police agencies have internal policies to gain parental consent for interrogations, only Alaska, Minnesota and Wisconsin require juvenile interrogations to be recorded.

Attorney Eileen Hirsch, who litigated a Wisconsin case which led to the juvenile interrogation law, said when done improperly, interrogations can’t “give a judge or jury necessary means to make the right decision.

“It is the best tool ever shoved down our throats—it’s made cases I wouldn’t have made any other way.” said Commander Neil Nelson, a 30 year veteran of the St. Paul Minnesota Police that now records all interrogations. The downside, he said, is the cost in recording equipment and tape transcription.

In Pennsylvania, a state with no juvenile interrogation law, a troubling study by Human Rights Watch found it leads the nation with 342 juveniles sentenced to life in prison.

This has provoked Pennsylvania Sen.Vincent Fumo (D-Phila) to advocate banning life sentences for juveniles and re-examining interrogation techniques for children.

“I wouldn’t take a confession unless their parents were there and a lawyer was present,” said Sen. Fumo.

False confessions

Part 8 of Series: Hosea Davis
Pressured to Plea Despite Claim of Innocence

Pittsburgh Man Now Must Max Out Sentence Due To Lie About Guilt

By Bill Moushey
Innocence Institute of Point Park University

PITTSBURGH -- Mr. Davis had known Tommy Paige since grammar school, both products of the tough streets of East Liberty. Along the way, both racked up convictions for drug and weapons possession charges.

After a wedding reception on Sept. 15, 2001, they drank at a bar in East Liberty, before finishing off the night with some food at the Elks Club on Lincoln Ave. Ameena Fullard, an acquaintance of both, had been drinking heavily and smoking marijuana before she visited the club separately.

Mr. Davis and Mr. Paige entered the after-hours club, ordered chicken dinners then headed downstairs to a dance hall.

On their way out an hour later, they got into a fight in the kitchen over who should have been served first. Mr. Davis, a stout, tattooed man about 190 pounds, crashed about the kitchen with Mr. Paige, who weighed 280 pounds, before a club manager broke them apart and led them out the door.

Still in the doorway, Mr. Davis hurled a punch at Mr. Paige, grazing his face and watching the large man fall backwards, and lay motionless on the ground.

Some assumed Mr. Paige was stunned from hitting his head on a pole before landing. A woman nearby pulled off Davis’ t-shirt to place under Paige’s bleeding head.

The shirtless Mr. Davis went home, only to receive a call minutes later saying Mr. Paige was dead of a stab wound to the chest.

Crime Scene Investigation

Police arrived at the Elks Club by about 5 a.m.; a half hour after the fight was over.

They didn’t find a murder weapon. A handful of the 15 people who remained claimed they saw nothing, but Ms. Fullard had blood all over her from trying to help Ms. Paige after she emerged from the basement dance hall.

Police took her in for questioning and found she had an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court in for cashing checks stolen from a nursing home. She also had pending charges for driving a stolen car among a long list of other crimes of deceit.

Six-hours of interrogation later, the drunken, stoned woman was so exhausted she told police what they wanted to hear – she watched Mr. Davis stab his friend.

In the statement, Ms. Fullard said the fight hadn’t ended with a single punch that floored Mr. Paige.

Instead, she said Mr. Davis was so enraged Mr. Paige had knocked out one of his teeth during the fray that he went back into the club, grabbed a shiny weapon, stuffed it up the sleeve of his shirt, burst through the door and stabbed Mr. Paige in the chest.

No one corroborated her story. Mr. Davis did not have a long sleeved shirt on and did not lose any teeth.

In exchange for her statement, Ms. Fullard later said police gave her $500, put her in the city’s witness program and promised to help lessen a series of charges against her if she testified. A jury would hear nothing about any leniency promises. Ms. Fullard was arrested shortly thereafter on a new series of scam-related charges and jailed.

In the year after her testimony convicted Mr. Davis, Ms. Fullard recanted at least three times, so when she called his mother from the Allegheny County jail, Mr. Davis’ mother captured the fourth recantation on tape with the inmate’s consent.

On the tape, she admitted she did not see anything because she was not present during the melee. Claiming she found the Lord in a jail cell, Ms. Fullard said she was haunted by the biblical phrase, “The truth will set you free.”

“I was scared that I was going to be charged with a crime so I told them whatever they wanted to know for them to let me go,” said Ms. Fullard, who also later became a key witness in the institutional sex assault cases against Allegheny County jail guards.

In the taped recantation, Ms. Fullard said she had three times tried to tell Assistant Allegheny County District Attorney Bruce Beemer her testimony was false. She claimed she didn’t come forward earlier because the prosecutor threatened to file perjury charges against her if she did.

Her recantation and other issues in the case caused the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in 2002 to reverse the 3rd Degree Murder conviction and his 20-40 year prison sentence.

After that, an investigation by the Innocence Institute of Point Park University, a partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Point Park University, found four other eyewitnesses never called to testify who also said Ms. Fullard was in the downstairs dance room when the crime occurred.

The taped recantation won Mr. Davis a new trial and plea bargaining began. Initially, he said prosecutors offered him a three year cut from his 20-40 year sentence. After several other offers were refused, Mr. Davis, who already had served three years, agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a 4-8 year sentence.

“I just wanted to get this over with. The first trial took a lot of fight out of me,” he said in a prison interview.

He figured it was worth it to tell Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Donald Machen a lie about his involvement because he’d only do another year in prison before he’d be paroled and able to get on with his life.

Mr. Davis made a half-hearted attempt to take responsibility for the crime during the parole hearing without actually admitting it, but the parole officer sent him back to his cell, accusing him of “minimizing the situation of the crime.”

“I told them I’m sorry as hell that he died, he was my buddy, I knew him all my life,” he said, admitting he did minimize his role because he had none in it. What he now knows is he will do the maximum sentence.

“I’m now just sitting here knowing I haven’t done anything,” he said.

False Confessions

Part 7 of Series: Nancy Erwin
Plea of Guilty In School Shooting Case Turns Into Prison Nightmare

Nancy Erwin Says She Lied To Help Husband, Now Claims of Innocence

By Elizabeth Perry
The Innocence Institute of Point Park University

After successfully teaching math in the Marion Center School District for 21 years, Nancy Erwin became embroiled in a series of minor disputes with a new administration and in the fall of 1999 began receiving negative performance reviews.

Then in March 2000, she and her first husband, with whom she had two daughters, divorced.

Later that year on the Internet, she met an Irishman living in New Zealand named Sam Erwin, 42, an over-the-road truck driver who she married within a year.

Eventually, Mrs. Erwin’s problems with the school district led to a suspension and her agreement to take early retirement from her $51,000 a-year-job in exchange for dropping complaints against them.

The Erwins moved to Morgantown, W.Va. where she took a part-time teaching job for a fraction of that money.

While friends said Mrs. Erwin was attempting start a new life, her new husband became fixated on Marion Center officials he blamed for their financial problems.

In several drunken stupors, Mrs. Erwin said her husband often made not-so-veiled threats against school official at Marion Center. She dismissed the threats because he didn’t act on other drunken statements which he often didn’t even remember once he sobered up.

Mr. Erwin didn’t know the extent of the personal demons plaguing her husband until after their marriage. While she knew he drank, she did not know he was not only an alcoholic, but suffered from severe mental problems which caused at least five suicide attempts prior to when they met.

Desperate to save him, Mrs. Erwin took her husband to counselors, psychiatrists and hospital detoxification units at least 15 times. Despite her efforts, Mr. Erwin plunged deeper into despair, attempting suicide six more times before the shootings.

Only days before he acted on his threats, Mr. Erwin told a psychiatrist he was suffering repeated hallucinations. He once woke up and crawled across a floor, believing enemies lurking outside were after his wife.

While Mrs. Erwin repeatedly persuaded her husband to submit to hospitalization – including one stint just weeks before the shooting – he would check himself out and resume drinking beer all day long.

Alcohol played a role in the destiny of Mike Fox too. At the time of the incident, Mrs. Erwin’s eldest daughter was dating Mr. Fox, an 18-year-old dropout from Marion Center High School.

While no one knew at the time, Mr. Fox’s adoptive mother says her son has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which expert Kathryn Kelly of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Legal Issues Resource Center in Seattle says causes an inability to distinguish “between what they genuinely remember, what they imagine and what other people want them to remember, especially those in authority.”

Police didn’t know about Mr. Fox’s condition when his account was used to link Mrs. Erwin to the school shootings, but even they would repeatedly question the voracity of his story.

The Message

On June 21, 2002, Mr. Erwin and Mr. Fox went to a pawnshop in Morgantown for the second time in two weeks attempting to buy a .32 caliber handgun, but they called Mrs. Erwin because they didn’t have enough money.

Mrs. Erwin initially thought she was hocking her old clarinet for money to pay expenses to transport a gun safe to a sale. When she got there Sam Erwin told her he was buying a gun for her to use as protection while he was working, so despite all of her husband’s problems, she went through with the deal, rationalizing her husband wouldn’t use it on himself or others while with Mr. Fox.

She left separately to visit her daughter and says she thought the two men were returning home.

Unbeknownst to her, Mr. Fox drove her husband – who swilled beer the entire trip -- two and a half hours away to the Marion Center school administration building.

As Mr. Fox sat outside in a car, Mr. Erwin walked in, identified himself and asked to see administrators.

When told they weren’t available and asked if he wanted to leave a message, the drunken Mr. Erwin fumbled through his pocket, pulled out the gun, said, “here’s the message,” and shot at a secretary, hitting her in the right thigh. Another woman fractured her heels in a fall while escaping.

As he walked out, Mr. Erwin shot out a plate glass window.

While driving away, Mr. Fox called his girlfriend, Mrs. Erwin’s daughter to tell her what happened, and then asked to talk with her mother. Mr. Fox told her a secretary had been shot. Mr. Erwin then got on the phone and pleaded with her to meet them at a Delmont restaurant so she could get him help.

State police called to the shooting scene knew Mr. Erwin had identified himself as the gunman and soon learned Mr. Fox was with him, secured his cellular phone number and contacted his family. Mr. Fox’s brother told police not to believe a word his sibling said.

When troopers called him, Mr. Fox initially denied driving Mr. Erwin, lied about what kind of car they were in and said he knew nothing about the shooting.

After dropping Mr. Erwin at the restaurant, Mr. Fox called troopers back, admitted his involvement and pulled the auto over until he could surrender.

This time, Mr. Fox told them he was forced at gun point to drive Mr. Erwin to Marion Center and that Mrs. Erwin helped plan the shooting.

There were so many discrepancies in Mr. Fox’s story that the investigating trooper wrote in a report that he was “hesitant in believing Fox’s story, but had no other info to go on.”

“A Choice Between Hell and Hell”

Mr. Erwin was arrested along Rt. 22 near the restaurant and his wife on her way to pick him up.

She initially denied knowledge of the crime or his whereabouts because, she said, she wanted to hospitalize him before summoning police.

Mrs. Erwin said she came clean at the Greensburg barracks because, “I was scared for Sam and I wasn’t sure what could happen. I knew he had the gun.”

The lies and Mr. Fox’s statement was enough to include her arrest with the others.

At a preliminary hearing on July 18, 2002, a trooper testified about Mrs. Erwin’s initial lies, said she helped her husband purchase the gun and helped plan the shooting. He based much of his testimony on Mr. Fox’s inconsistent statements.

After she was ordered to stand trial, her lawyer, Robert Muir asked her to accept a plea bargain to avoid what could become a life sentence if she were convicted and a judge imposed maximum sentences. She refused, and trial was set for January 13, 2003.

Just before trial, prosecutors offered a second plea agreement, this one included a deal for her husband. She’d do 24-54 months in prison and her husband 9-18 years.

“I told him you are giving me a choice of hell and hell,” she said, before accepting it.

Mr. Muir recently called that characterization “completely inaccurate and unfounded” and said she pleaded guilty under oath.

Mrs. Erwin has since been unsuccessful in withdrawing her guilty plea and because she refused to accept responsibility for the crime before the parole board, she will serve her entire sentence, which won’t end until December 22, 2006, despite a clean prison record and her work teaching other inmates to read.

Mr. Fox – who also pleaded guilty in the Marion Center Shooting and did about two years in prison -- continued a pattern of lying under pressure while locked up, in one instance telling police he heard another inmate confess to murder only to admit later he was not telling the truth. He declined comment.

In a letter, Mrs. Erwin’s husband, whose mental state has been stabilized in prison, maintained his wife is “100% innocent,” and wrote she made a “terrible, terrible sacrifice…as a matter of convenience for those appointed to represent her best interests.”

False Confessions

Part 6 of Series
“Let’s Make a Deal”
Justice System Provokes
‘Guilty Lies’

By Bill Moushey and Elizabeth Perry
Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Nancy Erwin admitted conspiring with her alcoholic, suicidal husband in the shooting of an Indiana County school secretary in 2002 over her dismissal as a math teacher because a lawyer convinced her it was the only way to avoid a life behind bars..

Now she says it was a lie.

“I was threatened, blackmailed, coerced and harassed into taking my plea,” said Mrs. Erwin. “I have hated myself since I signed my life away to a felony, a crime I never committed,” she said in a letter from the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs.

Hosea Davis’s claims of innocence in a murder as he was serving a 20-40 year sentence fell on deaf ears until he won a new trial when the only witness against him admitted she lied.

After almost three years behind bars and months of negotiations to avoid a second trial he also pleaded guilty in exchange for a 4-8 year term, making him eligible for parole in one year, even though he still professes his innocence.

“I was thinking about going home, doing what I’ve got to do to get home,” he said.

The cases of Mrs. Erwin and Mr. Davis are metaphors for a phenomenon that puts an exclamation mark on a “Let’s Make A Deal” justice system built to extract as many plea bargains as possible from defendants – even if they are sometimes innocent -- to avoid costly trials and to clear court dockets.

While Mrs. Erwin and Mr. Davis claim innocence even though they pleaded to reduced charges, they were hit with a double-whammy when they came up for parole. In Pennsylvania, parole authorities will not release anyone before their maximum sentence date unless they accept full responsibility for their crimes.

In Mrs. Erwin’s case, that tacked two more years on her conspiracy conviction. Mr. Davis, who thought he would walk free after one more year behind bars, is now resigned to spending eight years in prison despite a growing pile of evidence suggesting he’s innocent.

“I don’t know how to show remorse for something I didn’t do. I don’t know how to do it,” he said during an interview at the State Correctional Institution at Albion recently.

Pervasive Pleas

There is no doubt that court systems in Pennsylvania and elsewhere could not function without plea bargains. The shear number of charges filed in Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere would cause court dockets to be clogged if even half of those charged demanded trials.

Claire Capristo, Deputy Court Administrator of Allegheny County, said half of the 19,000 cases held for court in 2004 were resolved through pleas, not including the nearly five thousand resolved before hearings.

Al Alshuler, Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Chicago, says across the country, 97 per cent of convictions result from pleas.

“Personal and public interests lead prosecutors to bargain,” Mr. Alshuler said, explaining some prosecutors have weak cases they want to resolve while others cut deals to consolidate multi-count charges or to reduce the shear volume.

According to George Fisher, a former prosecutor now a law professor at Stanford University, these efforts to increase efficiency also benefit defendants who avoid facing unpredictable judges and juries and longer sentences that come after trials.

As for the impact of the rules calling for inmates to take responsibility for their crimes on rising prison populations, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole says it does not track the number of inmates denied parole for refusing to accept responsibility. Its 2005 annual report said 68 percent of those paroled were released at their minimum sentence.

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.”

False Confessions

Part 4 of series: Da'ron Cox
Gangland Violence
Snares Cox, But Did Police Get the Right Man?
Case Shows How A Questionable Confession Trumps Lies and Contradictions Every Time.

By Cynthia Levy
Innocence Institute of Point Park University

PITTSBURGH -- In November 1996 when Brian Roberts, known as “Little B”, pointed a gun at a cop, he was arrested with that automatic weapon and 34 rocks of crack cocaine, but walked free after telling police the gun and drugs belonged to Roland Cephas, who was busted and vowed retaliation.

Ten days later as Mr. Roberts stood in front of row houses on Homewood’s dismal Sterrett St., a man in a black coat, scull cap and blue jeans shot him twice, chased him into an alley, pumped two more bullets into him, pistol-whipped him and left him to die.

While few in the area helped police, the cop who got Mr. Roberts to snitch told homicide detectives Mr. Cephas may have been the killer. No one implicated Da’Ron Cox, 18, or even placed him at the scene.

Fourteen days later Raisheai Smith, incarcerated at Shuman Juvenile Detention Center after violating his parole, struck a deal with police. For freedom and relocation funds he said he witnessed Mr. Cox commit the murder.

In a statement riddled with inconsistencies, Mr. Smith said he watched Mr. Cox jump out of a car and shoot Mr. Roberts in the chest, fall from the force of the initial shots, get up, and run into an alley where he was shot three more times.

He knew nothing about a later report from the Allegheny County Coroner’s office reports stating Mr. Roberts was also pistol whipped.

Despite those conflicts, police used Mr. Smith’s statement to obtain a warrant for Mr. Cox’s arrest. Six days later he turned himself in and hasn’t been free since.

Unfair Interrogation?

Shackled to the ground, scared and confused, Mr. Cox claims he was interrogated from 7 p.m. until 1:30 a.m.

“I kept telling them I was with my girlfriend in Penn Hills and they kept telling me they knew I did it and that they had me red-handed,” said Cox. As it turned out, the girlfriend never fully confirmed his alibi.

He says for three hours, city detectives Robert McCabe, now deceased, and Dennis Logan, now an investigator for the Allegheny County District Attorneys Office, took turns playing good cop, bad cop.

“They started telling me they knew I wasn’t a violent person because they pulled my juvenile record and they knew I never carried a gun so (they told me) it would be real easy to get me off if I confessed,” he said.

When he refused to admit the killing, he says detectives told him they could make this into a “self-defense thing” charging him with manslaughter which carries a minimum two-year sentence. To prove it they showed him a copy of the Pennsylvania Crime Code. He decided to cut his losses.

“When you live the lifestyle that I was living you become conditioned to do time. You know you’ll eventually go to jail and I was just thinking two years and I’ll put it behind me,” he said.

Confession Conflicts

In his statement, Mr. Smith said Mr. Cox shot the victim at close range in the chest. In his confession, Mr. Cox told police he fired six shots into Mr. Robert’s chest from a distance. Mr. Roberts was shot in the back.

At the July 1997 trial, Det. McCabe denied manipulating the young man who was without representation during the interrogation. His purpose: “To obtain a confession, to find out what happened.” He could not account for the difference in Mr. Cox’s confession and Mr. Smith’s statements.

On the witness stand, Mr. Cox denied involvement, claiming he confessed after the six and a half hours of questioning out of fear for his life.

Mr. Cox testified the officers told him what kind of gun – which was never found -- was used, where the crime occurred and how many shots were fired. The police have repeatedly denied that.

After a three day trial, Mr. Cox was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

“When I heard the judge say I was guilty I was not surprised. There was a lady on the jury I made eye contact with. She nodded at me before they went to deliberate like everything would be okay, but, when she came out crying I just looked at my mom and said that’s how the cookie crumbles,” said Cox.

Post-trial Revelations and Carnage in Homewood

After trial several Homewood men provided affidavits stating they were positive Mr. Cox was not present at the murder scene.

Oronde Shelton said in a sworn affidavit he was present at the murder scene. He claims the killer was not Mr. Cox and Mr. Robert’s murder was rooted in his dispute with Mr. Cephas, who was murdered in 1997. Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning denied the appeal.

Another man, Ross Davis, later signed an affidavit swearing Mr. Smith, the only eyewitness against Mr. Cox, was with him in a row house at the time of the killing and did not see anything.

In his statement, Mr. Davis said he once asked Mr. Smith why he lied on Mr. Cox and Mr. Smith replied: “I don’t care anymore.” Mr. Smith was gunned down in 1999.

Since, a man named Dewayne Jackson swore in an affidavit that he saw Mr. Cephas commit the murder.

Ten years later, Mr. Cox is the sole surviving suspect in this string of retaliatory street gang killings. He says he had nothing to do with Mr. Robert’s death or any of the others.

“I just hope that one day someone will see that the whole situation was not right and lets me out,” he says.

Mr. Cox’s attorney tried filing appeals based on the new evidence, but was repeatedly denied. His attorney is currently preparing his final appeal in federal court.

False Confessions

Part 3 of series: Tiffany Pritchett
Murder in Donora
Series of Lies and Unrecorded
Confession Questions Whether
Justice Was Served

By Elizabeth Perry
Innocence Institute of Point Park University

On Dec. 13, 1993 Tiffany Pritchett, Troy Groomes and Dameon Isbell watched a movie in Donora, Washington County, then trekked up a snow covered hill towards their neighborhood.

According to Mr. Isbell, a veteran criminal and gang banger at 19, that’s when the teenaged Miss Pritchett shot Mr. Groomes in the back of the head with a .380-semi-automatic revolver. He said Miss Pritchett, who had no criminal record, exacted vengeance because Mr. Groomes raped her.

Months later, Miss Pritchett denied the rape allegations and told police she watched Mr. Isbell execute Mr. Groomes in a dispute over drugs.

Virtually the only thing they agreed on was that both of them and another man moved the body to where it was found, frozen, 21 days later. The police eventually believed Mr. Isbell. Miss Pritchett has been imprisoned ever since.

Runaway Life

At the time of the killing, Miss Pritchett was 17-years-old and on the run from a group home. She had cycled through the child welfare system since her crack-addicted mother lost custody five years earlier. She never met her father.

During a telephone interview from the State Correctional Institution at Muncy, Miss Pritchett said she didn’t say anything to anyone about the crime she witnessed because the culture she grew up in taught her to internalize what she saw and what she felt.

“I was always taught that you don’t tell,” she said, no matter what happened.

Fear also kept her silent. Shortly after the killing, Miss Pritchett said she was threatened and beaten by three men, one she described in court as Mr. Isbell’s brother.

Robber to Snitch

For four months, the murder investigation stalled.

In March 1995, a retired U.S. Marine foiled Mr. Isbell’s attempted armed robbery of a Donora Uni-Mart with the gun that killed Mr. Groomes.

Shortly after he was caught and even before police realized the gun Mr. Isbell used in the robbery killed Mr. Groomes, he told state troopers he didn’t do it, but knew who did.

While police and prosecutors say no immunity deal was immediately cut, Mr. Isbell told them he watched Miss Pritchett fire a single shot into the back of Mr. Groomes’ head.

When questioned, Miss Pritchett admitted to being at the scene and helping move the body, but said it was Mr. Isbell who did the killing without her knowledge.

After Mr. Isbell passed a polygraph test, his statement was used to charge her with murder.

Trial and Mr. Isbell’s Error

At trial, Mr. Isbell said he was standing next to Mr. Groomes when he “saw a gun flash” in the corner of his eye, then watched Mr. Groomes fall face down in the snow as Miss Pritchett stood over him holding a revolver.

He said they fled and returned a few hours later with another man to hide the body.

Mr. Isbell said nothing about the murder for over four months because he said the slim Miss Pritchett intimidated him.

Under cross-examination, Mr. Isbell said he used the murder weapon during the robbery because he stole it from where Miss Pritchett stashed it after the killing.

Mr. Isbell not only denied the killing, but that he ever fired a weapon, even though he later admitted to membership in Pittsburgh’s Crips street gang and participating in drive-by shootings.

Mr. Isbell also denied getting a deal for his testimony and prosecutors said nothing – as the law requires – about any consideration Mr. Isbell was to receive. Mr. Isbell’s murder charges were dropped and he was sentenced to 5-10 years in the robbery, which prompted an appeal where he complained prosecutors promised a lighter sentence.

Another witness, Erica Guthrie, said Miss Pritchett told her she did the murder, but her testimony was questioned after she admitted having sex with both Mr. Isbell and the deceased.

At that point, Washington County District Attorney John Pettit – whose office had never lost a murder case – proposed a polygraph for Miss Pritchett.

With nothing more than a promise that he had “everything to gain” if his client passed the test, Mr. Sichko allowed his client to be polygraphed while he was at a Pitt/Temple football game.

According to court documents, the test and interrogation of Miss Pritchett began at 11:00 am, Sat., Nov. 19, 1994 and did not end until six hours later.

She said the state troopers were cordial until after the test, which they said proved her guilt.

“They started banging on the desk and hollering, trying to scare me and things like that, a lot of intimidation,” she said.

State troopers testified after a prolonged interrogation, she began laughing softly and admitted killing Mr. Groomes. Miss Pritchett says she never confessed.

The troopers did not record the statement and did not ask Miss Pritchett to write out her confession or have her sign anything.

One of the troopers who interviewed Miss Pritchett admitted in court he did not write down notes until a day after the interview.

When Mr. Sichko learned of the supposed confession, he asked a judge to suppress her statements because he was not present during the interrogation.

That motion was denied and out of confusion, Miss Pritchett agreed to keep Mr. Sichko as her attorney.

She was convicted of first degree murder and a sentenced to life without parole.

Mr. Isbell was released after serving about six years. There is presently a warrant for his arrest in Washington County for skipping bail on simple assault charges against a child.

Get Away With Murder?

In a 1998 appeal, Miss Pritchett submitted a sworn affidavit from a man named Darnell Pearson stating Mr. Isbell, his former cellmate, bragged he had gotten away with Mr. Groomes’ murder. Her appeal was denied.

After a series legal delays due to lawyers and judges, Attorney Noah Geary of Washington, Pa. filed another 25-page appeal, citing the incriminating statement about Mr. Isbell and among other things Mr. Sichko’s “outrageous decision…to advise his 18-year-old client to submit to a polygraph examination—mid-trial—and then attend a college football game rather than accompany her.”

Last spring, as a judge was considering whether Ms. Pritchett deserved a new trial, the Washington County prosecutor offered Ms. Pritchett another deal: If she dropped her appeal and pleaded guilty to a felony murder count, she would be released.

It was similar to other deals Mr. Pettit has given in murder trials after exculpatory evidence surfaced.

After days of consideration, Miss Pritchett, who has been imprisoned 12 years, declined the offer.

“She said ‘I’m innocent, I want to put it in the judge’s hands.’ If she would have taken the deal, she’d be out right now,” her stunned lawyer said.

In March, a visiting judge granted and she presently awaits it.

False Confessions

Part 2 of series
Western Pa. Case Issues Mirror National Trends

Did they confess? No One Will Ever Know For Sure Because of Failures to Record All Custodial Interrogations

By Bill Moushey and Elizabeth Perry
Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Attorney Francis Sichko agreed to let state police polygraph 18-year-old Tiffany Pritchett in the middle of her 1994 murder trial because if she passed the test, Washington County’s prosecutor led him to believe charges would be dropped.

Instead of accompanying his client, Mr. Sichko went to a Pitt/Temple football game. Days later, state police – who did not record it or immediately write down notes about it – said Miss Pritchett confessed to the execution-style slaying of an acquaintance.

Homewood teen Da’Ron Cox, also 18, had a reputation as a “Mama’s Boy” and was called “Chicken” by the neighborhood gang bangers he tried to keep up with, making him an unlikely suspect in the execution-style slaying of a drug dealing snitch in 1996.

After three hours of un-recorded threats and promises, Mr. Cox says detectives wheedled a confession out of him, and then put only eight minutes of it on tape, even though his confession doesn’t match evidence in the slaying and another youth was repeatedly implicated in it.

Troy Joseph, 18, told police he was going outside to fight with his sister’s boyfriend, but fled the East Liberty scene when a masked robber accosted them, then gunned down Richard Pearson during a botched robbery attempt.

After several hours of interrogation, he says police – despite having information from an eyewitness that exculpated him -- twisted his words into a confession to the killing.

Three black youths. Three confessions. Three convictions. Three sentences of life. Three lives wasted if appeals don’t prevail. They all claim innocence and their cases are bereft of evidence outside the confessions.

They are tragic metaphors for a problem that has tainted cases throughout Western Pennsylvania and the nation—the failure of police to build an unquestioned record of investigative actions by recording all custodial interrogations.

While it is no surprise that juries – and most people – believe confessions, there is a growing body of evidence in cases in this region and around the nation where savvy detectives can get vulnerable suspects to admit almost anything through threats, promises of leniency and other coercive interrogation techniques that courts allow but juries might question.

The failure to routinely record these custodial interrogations incurs expenses much higher than the $29,000 a year it costs to house an inmate in Pennsylvania or the expense of fighting appeals over claims of false confessions that languish in the court system for years.

It allows police to make up confessions out of whole cloth, as Pritchett claims, threaten and scare suspects as Cox says, or twist innocent words into culpability in crime, as Joseph contends.

While police in these cases have denied impropriety in court, they refused comment when contacted repeatedly by the Innocence Institute of Point Park University, an investigative organization in partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette which investigates and writes about allegations of wrongful convictions.

‘Play the tape’

The definitive report about the benefits of recording all interrogations was written in 2004 by former United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Thomas P. Sullivan for the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University.

Mr. Sullivan says it’s obvious how recording suspects prevents a situation like Pritchett alleges: “You just play the tape.”

Richard Ofshe, a leading authority on false confessions at the University of California-Berkley, says recording interrogations gives juries clear views of the process.

“The biggest single cause of false confession is police making offers of leniency or threats of harm that they are not permitted to make,” he said.

While knowing nothing about Mr. Cox’s claims, Dr. Ofshe says recording interrogations would reduce them “dramatically,” because he believes it is unlikely police would do unethical and illegal things on tape.

Over the past few years, experts have been so persuasive in their argument about recording custodial interrogations, that rules were passed in New Jersey and Massachusetts forcing judges to order juries to give less credibility to un-recorded confessions than those that are taped. There is no such law in Pennsylvania.

There is also the argument that recording custodial interrogations is good police work. The International Association of Chiefs of Police Association calls recording of custodial interrogations cost effective because taping statements, “dramatically reduce the number of defense motions to suppress statements and confessions,” according to its policy statement.

Chiefs in Western Pennsylvania Are Divided

Chief George Polnar of the Monroeville Police Dept. in the eastern Pittsburgh, Pa. suburbs, and president of the Allegheny County Chiefs of Police Assn. said he sees possible merit in recording custodial interrogations. He said he will research the issue and possibly present it to his group, which often approves non-binding best practice policies for area police agencies.

In Allegheny County, the most populated region in Western Pennsylvania, officials from 30 police departments who investigate their own major crimes were split on how often it should be used.

“I don’t like recordings,” said Chief Robert Payne of the suburban Plum Borough Police Department, rejecting what experts suggest. Chief Payne did many interrogations during his 26 years with the Allegheny County Police Department before moving to his present job. He believes recording suspects “creates more of a problem” because it “turns people off” and “takes flexibility away from police.”

Another suburban police chief disagrees. Baldwin Borough Police Chief Christopher Kelly said officers only record interrogations when a suspect agrees to it, but said they are valuable.

“It’s worth its weight in gold,” he said about potential court challenges to confessions.

Police Chief Charles Korman of Murrysville, another Pittsburgh suburb, does not think it’s necessary to record all custodial interrogations.

“Each interrogation is fluid; you have to respond to the personality of a suspect being interrogated,”said Chief Korman.

Allegheny County Police Chief Charles Moffatt declined to identify the policies of his department, other than to say his detectives follow the law.

In the City of Pittsburgh, detectives ask all suspects in major crimes if they can record interrogations. If the suspect refuses, then detectives conduct un-recorded interviews.

Sometimes, as in the investigation of Mr. Cox, they will interrogate a suspect for several hours, and then tape a short statement. Assistant Chief Nate Harper did not respond to written questions.

While Steven Drizin, Legal Director of the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University and an expert in false confessions understands the situations police find themselves in, he believes recording interrogations every time will protect both parties, and ensure justice.

“The interrogation often becomes an exercise in trying to confirm the suspicion that the suspect is guilty, rather than trying to figure out the truth,” he said.

False Confessions

Part 1 of series

National Trend Troubling

By Bill Moushey and Elizabeth Perry
Innocence Institute of Point Park University.

Despondent over finding his parents brutally murdered, Gary Gauger was interrogated for 19 hours until admitting hypothetically he could’ve committed the double-homicide in Northern Illinois during a drunken black-out.

The five New York City teenagers convicted in the infamous Central Park Jogger case were questioned intensively -the longest for 28-hours- until all but one offered shaky confessions inconsistent with the facts.

After Harrisburg. Pa. area cops convinced Barry Laughman, who had an IQ near 70 and the mentality of a 10-year-old, they had evidence he killed his neighbor, he confessed in 1987.

While these cases occurred in different places and under different circumstances, all of them have one frightening thing in common – people confessed to heinous crimes they did not commit and spent years in prison until their innocence was proven.

The Psychological ‘Third Degree’

Back in the heyday of old school crime in America and in the movies ever since, it was normal for police to shine hot lights over suspects in dank rooms during grueling interrogations called the “third degree” or in some cases, to literally beat a confession out of them.

Extreme instances of those practices ended decades ago in detective bureaus, but are now back in the public eye with repeated allegations of torture by U.S. troops toward enemy combatants in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. Military experts have said much of the information extracted through torture is at best unreliable.

While few allegations of physical torture have been made in Western Pennsylvania or elsewhere, there have been hundreds of complaints that non-violent coercive interrogation techniques have enabled skilled law enforcement officers to elicit confessions out of unsuspecting suspects, many true, but some false.

“The interrogation often becomes an exercise in trying to confirm the suspicion that the suspect is guilty, rather than trying to figure out the truth,” said Steven Drizin, an expert on false confessions and the legal director of the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, Ill.

Dr. Saul Kassin, a professor of psychology at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. who has written extensively on false confessions, says intense psychological techniques can also yield flawed information.

The interrogation methods have long been known as the “good cop/bad cop” approach which experts call maximization and minimization that are buttressed by U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the years that allow police to lie to suspects during interrogations to manipulate confessions out of them.

It starts with scare tactics when the bad cop maximizes the situation until “the suspect is led to believe there is independent evidence of his guilt and that things will be particularly onerous if he doesn’t cooperate,” Dr. Kassin says.

Frightened into submission, the good cop cajoles a suspect into a confession by minimizing the crime, suggesting, “perhaps it was accidental, perhaps it was provoked, perhaps he was pushed into it by his friends, perhaps he was under the influence of drugs at the time,” Dr. Kassin says

Children, the mentally ill and the retarded are particularly vulnerable to these kinds of interrogation techniques that produce false confessions, according to a report by Samuel R. Gross of the University of Michigan Law School in a study of 250 wrongful convictions in the United States from 1989 – 2003.

Dr. Gross found 44 percent of exonerations of children in his study and 69 percent of those involving the mentally retarded had false confessions.

While those numbers are dramatic, Mr. Drizin says under the right circumstances anyone can be “worn down by coercive police interrogations.” There are literally hundreds of examples.

In 1993, William Kelly, a mentally retarded alcoholic with a history of manic depression confessed to a Harrisburg murder, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison until a serial killer confessed to the crime, DNA confirmed it and Mr. Kelly was released.

In 1998 after a detective in Chicago bought two boys, 7 and 8, McDonald’s Happy Meals and questioned them without their parents present, they confessed to the murder of Ryan Harris--only to be proven innocent before trial when DNA testing showed an adult man had committed the crime.

In 1999, after 19 hours of interrogations where Prince Georges County, Maryland cops repeatedly showed Keith Longtin pictures of his dead wife, he confessed to her rape and murder. He was imprisoned until DNA evidence proved the crime was committed by a serial rapist.

In 2001, Christopher Ochoa and Richard Danziger of Austin, Texas confessed to the rape and murder during the robbery of a 20-year-old woman who worked in a Pizza Hut. Police convinced Mr. Ochoa to confess to avoid the death sentence and he implicated Mr. Danziger, his friend. After a dozen years in prison, DNA testing exonerated both of them.

Could He Have Done It?

Mr. Gauger was a recovering alcoholic living on the back of his parents’ farm in Clark County, Ill, south of the Wisconsin border. Along with farming, his father repaired and collected vintage motorcycles.

He said he hadn’t seen his parents in a few days when a customer happened by asking about a motorcycle part. When Mr. Gauger went to ask his father about it, he found his father’s body, his throat slit.

Mr. Gauger called police, and they discovered his dead mother’s body rolled up in a carpet outside, her throat slashed too.

Because he found the bodies and stood to gain materially from his parents’ deaths, Mr. Gauger was the only suspect.

Mr. Gauger denied having anything to do with the murders. After hours and hours, police began to pose different scenarios and claimed they had overwhelming forensic evidence proving he’d done it.

Mentally exhausted from 19 hours of interrogation, Mr. Gauger finally agreed with a police-created scenario that had him killing his parents during a drunken black-out and he was jailed on capitol murder charges.

Mr. Gauger quickly realized he was tricked into the confession, but was unable to get it suppressed. A jury used it to convict him and sentence him to death.

Three years later, a member of an outlaw motorcycle gang from Wisconsin became a government witness in a federal racketeering case and told authorities his associates killed Mr. Gauger’s parents.

After almost four years in prison – a year and a half of it on death row – Mr. Gauger was released and charges against him were eventually dropped.

Injustice in Central Park

After the Central Park Jogger beating and rape, which left a woman in New York City near death, police arrested five boys after intensive interrogations, most of them without their guardians present.

A detective admitted he lied about the existence of fingerprint evidence to get the boys to confess. Then they began to tell on each other.

Two were mentally retarded, one said in his confession he literally flew around Central Park in a blue car.

None of the boys confessed to raping the victim, and each described the attack as happening in different areas of the park.

After a hung jury in their first trial, all of them were convicted and sentenced to as long as 11 ½ years behind bars. While they were locked up, one of them met a serial rapist who confessed to the attack. Later, DNA testing confirmed it. Convicted as boys they were freed as men.

Fingerprints and Confession

At 24, Mr. Laughman lived with his parents, rode a bicycle to work and was still afraid of the dark.

When his next-door-neighbor and distant relative was brutally raped and murdered, police considered Mr. Laughman a suspect because there were three bruises on the victim’s arm that could have been made by his pinkie finger contorted from a childhood accident.

Alone with Laughman for an hour, the detective told the mentally retarded man that they found a “whorl pattern” fingerprint at the scene and that his finger had such a pattern.

Not knowing all fingers have whorl patterns, Mr. Laughman began agreeing with everything the cops told him to escape punishment, eventually confessing to the crime in a lengthy series of yes and no answers to questions.

With no other evidence, Laughman was convicted of the killing and sentenced to life in prison.

After an investigation by Pete Shellem of the Harrisburg Patriot-News uncovered an untested DNA sample, Mr. Laughman proved his innocence and was freed.

Mr. Laughman’s attorney, Bill Costopoulos has filed suit against the government on Mr. Laughman’s behalf. “We are hoping to bring some justice to this individual who was wrongly convicted, it cost him 16 years of his life.”

Monday, September 11, 2006

California Lawmakers Seek to Tighten Eyewitness, Interrogation Procedures

This article appeared in the San Fransisco Chronicle on Friday, September 8, 2006.

CALIFORNIA Legislature approves bills on wrongful convictions
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, September 8, 2006

California lawmakers, seeking to reduce the chances of innocent people going to prison, have approved proposals to require that interrogations of violent-crime suspects be tape recorded, and to set new guidelines for eyewitness identifications at lineups and photo displays.

The bills, sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on the final day of the legislative session last week, grew out of findings by a state commission that was created to determine and eliminate the causes of wrongful convictions.

"These two issues, mistaken eyewitness identification and false confessions, are the two leading causes of false convictions,'' said Natasha Minsker, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which supports the measures.

Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the two bills and is being urged by some police groups to veto them.

In a letter to the governor, the California State Sheriffs Association said the interrogation-taping measure would be "a huge mandate on local law enforcement'' because of the cost of recording equipment, and is too rigid in its requirements.

But former Attorney General John Van de Kamp, chairman of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, noted that the proposal is supported by most of the commission's law enforcement representatives, including Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, three district attorneys and Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

A commission report in July said the need to record interrogations is illustrated by numerous cases of suspects who confess to crimes they didn't commit.

One commission witness, Harold Hall, spent 19 years in prison for a rape and double murder in Los Angeles before being cleared by DNA testing in 2004. Another, Chris Ochoa, was exonerated by DNA tests after 12 years behind bars for a Texas rape-murder. Both said they had confessed under pressure and said jurors might have been able to detect that if the confessions had been taped.

The bills are the first to stem from reports issued by the commission, which the state Senate established in 2004 to look into the causes of wrongful convictions and recommend changes. Its 19 members include prosecutors, defense lawyers, police representatives and scholars.

Future hearings will look into the role of jailhouse informants, physical evidence, attorney incompetence and misconduct, and the administration of the death penalty. A final report is due at the end of 2007.

The interrogation bill, SB171 by Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose, would require audiotaping of violent-felony suspects questioned in a police station.

Confessions that were not recorded could still be introduced in court, under a 1982 ballot measure that requires California to follow federal standards on evidence. But the trial judge would have to tell jurors to consider the confession with caution.

The commission's report said many law enforcement agencies already tape at least a majority of their interrogations, including sheriff's departments in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, the San Francisco Police Department, and all agencies in Santa Clara County.

The California District Attorneys Association supports a statewide requirement, said Executive Director David LaBahn. He noted that the proposal was modified from earlier drafts to limit its coverage to violent felonies and to delete any requirement for videotaping.

As a former prosecutor in child-molesting cases, LaBahn said, he learned that when presenting evidence to a jury, "there's nothing better than having that individual speaking on tape.''

The eyewitness bill, SB1544 by Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, addresses what the commission described as the leading cause of wrongful convictions, mistaken identifications. But the measure was softened considerably from earlier proposals by some commission members who wanted to set binding rules for all police agencies.

Instead, it would require Lockyer to form a task force that would draft statewide police guidelines for eyewitnesses, taking the commission's findings into consideration.

The key finding is that mistaken identifications can be reduced if the officer who supervises a lineup, or displays photos to a witness, doesn't know who the suspect is and thus is unable to give subtle hints to the witness.

The commission also recommended that photos or members of a lineup be presented to a witness individually, rather than in a group, so that the witness can make individual decisions rather than saying which person looks most like the suspect.

Witnesses should also be asked how certain they are of their identifications and should be told that the suspect may or may not be in the lineup or photo display, the commission said.