Saturday, September 05, 2009

New Book on False Confessions

John Maki from the Northwestern Center on Wrongful Convictions writes that Rob Warden and Steve Drizin's new book, True Stories of False Confessions, contains 39 compelling accounts of false confessions—articles adapted from newspapers, magazines, and books by distinguished writers, including Sydney Schanberg, Alex Kotlowitz, and John Grisham.

The book includes the account of Chris Ochoa, who spent nearly 12 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Chris talks about how interrogators extracted a false confession from him in this video:

Of the book, John Maki writes, "True Stories of False Confessions shows that these cases are not aberrations, but rather evidence of flaws in the criminal justice system that demand reform. To this end, Warden and Drizin organize the stories of false confessions into categories, such as brainwashing, child abuse, and fabrication, and include a postscript for each case, providing legal updates and additional information."

The royalties from the book will go to the Center on Wrongful Convictions.

True Stories of False Confessions is available at Amazon. Learn more about True Stories of False Confessions at

Friday, September 04, 2009

Bad Science + Amateur Expert + Snitch = Execution of an Innocent Man

In this week's New Yorker David Grann chronicles the tragic story of Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham lost his children in house fire in Corsicana, Texas. A local fire inspector called it arson. A jailhouse snitch said that Willingham confessed. A two-day trial followed by a four hour deliberation sealed Willingham's fate. He was executed in 2004.

Unfortunately for Willingham, a re-analysis of the fire, done by a real scientist with a real degree, Gerald Hurst,--an analysis that revealed the fire was not the result of arson--was ignored by those in Texas who were hell-bent on injecting sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride into Willingham's veins.

What runs through the mind of an innocent man facing imminent execution? Willingham's last communications with his parents tell us. When he received word that Governor Rick Perry had denied a last-minute stay of execution, he told his mother, "Don't be sad, Momma. In fifty-five minutes, I'm a free man. I'm going home to see my kids." He told them, "Please don't ever stop trying to vindicate me."

Willingham's heart stopped beating on February 17, 2004, at 6:20 P.M. His death certificate listed the cause of death as "homicide." Who murdered him is clear. They remain at large.