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why do people confess to crimes they didn t commit

are built on the assumption that innocent people never confess to crimes they didnt commit. But in fact, false confessions are fairly common. The evidence that they occur with some frequency really began to pile up in the 1990s, when DNA evidence began to exonerate convicted criminalsincluding many who had confessed. Since then, researchers have classified known false confession cases into three categories. Some innocent people confess voluntarily in order to attract attention. Others confess to appease an aggressive investigator, desperate to put an end to a grueling interrogationthese are called compliant false confessions. And still other people offer internalized false confessions: In the interrogation process, they actually become momentarily persuaded that theyre guilty.


Here are a few notable examples of these three varieties of self-incrimination. EXAMPLE: The Black Dahlia confessors In January 1947, the body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short was found in a vacant lot in Los Angeles, carefully posed and severed in half at the waist. Luridly dubbed the Black Dahlia by newspapers, Short became the object of overwhelming public attention, including some of an especially peculiar kind. Estimates vary, but anywhere from dozens to hundreds of people came forward to falsely confess to her killing, including transient Daniel S. Voorhees (above). Some couldnt even identify Short in a lineup of photographs. Police never solved Shorts murder, making it one of LAs most famous cold cases. Other high-profile crimeslike the 1932 Lindbergh kidnapping and the 1996 murder of JonBent Ramseyhave also generated loads of voluntary false confessions.


EXAMPLE: The Central Park Five Following the rape of a female jogger in Central Park in 1989, five teenage boys of colorRaymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Kharey Wisewere accused and interrogated for 14 to 30 hours each. They confessed but later recanted, saying they had only given in to end the lengthy interrogations. In 2002 a serial rapist confessed to the crime, and DNA evidence backed his admission. The exonerated men won $41 million in a settlement with New York City and have been the subject of numerous books and a Ken Burns film. EXAMPLE: Peter Reilly After 18-year-old Peter Reilly reported finding his mother dead in their home one night in 1973, he became the primary suspect in her murder.


Thinking he had nothing to hide from police, Reilly volunteered to take a polygraph test. Investigators told him hed failed it (hed actually passed) and eventually convinced him of his own guilt. After hours of interrogation, Reilly delivered a full written confession. (I remember slashing once at my mothers throat with a straight razor I used for model airplanes. ) Reilly went to prison but was exonerated after new evidence proved that his story didnt match the timeline of his mothers death. The saga inspired the 1978 TV movie
A Death in Canaan. There are more innocent people who pleaded guilty than you might think. It seems mind-boggling that anyone would confess if they haven't actually done anything wrong.


So who are these innocent people who confessed to crimes, and why do people confess to crimes they didn't commit? Arrested individuals make false confessions for a variety of reasons, though unfair circumstances and abuse figure in many cases. If you're vulnerable and being treated inhumanely while being questioned, there's a good chance you'll say anything just to have it all be over. But that's the problem - it's not over. False confessions often lead to years in prison and even the execution of guiltless parties. So why do innocent people confess to crimes? Usually because they're forced to, because they feel like they have no other choice. But once that admission of guilt is out there, it's hard to take it back. Photo:

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