||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
By: Dale Recinella
Cold blasts of air sweep through the prison corridors. .
Most of the inmates are sleeping, buried under blankets on their cots. It’s a tranquil Sunday morning, quiet enough to share a few words with a wing sergeant at the sign-in desk.
“Chap, I respect your religious positions and all that,” he leans back in his chair. “But you’ve got to admit that the death penalty is appropriate in a clear-cut case.”
“The devil is in the details, Sarge. What would you describe as a clear-cut case?”
“Well, for example where a man actually confesses. Surely in that situation there aren’t any of the problems you’re always writing about.”
“That’s what you would think. The fact of the matter is that confessions don’t help a whole lot.”
“Well, I’m not talking about jailhouse snitch confessions,” he laughs. “I’m talking about bona fide, written down and signed confessions to the police. People do that you know.”
“Yes, people do that. Did you know that they did not allow confessions as evidence under the Biblical death penalty?”
“You sure about that? The straight forward kind of confessions?”
“Absolutely. The Biblical death penalty prohibited using confessions as evidence. Even with a full blown confession the court still needed detailed, uncontroverted testimony of at least two witnesses, same as if there was no confession at all.”
“But why? That makes no sense.”
“At first blush maybe. But think about this. A major national newspaper just completed a first of its kind investigation of thousands of murder cases over a ten-year period and found a morass in the area of confessions. Their conclusion was that police have ‘repeatedly closed murder cases with dubious confessions that imprison the innocent while killers go free.’ They discovered that children and the mentally retarded are especially targets for false confessions. They found 71 false confessions by suspects who were 16 years old or younger. And at least two dozen of the 247 false confessions identified in the article were made by the mentally retarded or men with severe learning disabilities.”
“Now that you mention it, I remember reading about some guy in Miami last summer. He confessed to four or five murders, and hadn’t done any of them.”
“That was Jerry Frank Townsend, a retarded man who spent 22 years in prison, serving seven life sentences for six murders and a rape. Then DNA evidence showed it couldn’t have been him. But that’s not the end of the problems with confessions. There’s also the duress of sustained interrogation and the problem of threats.”
“What kind of threats?”
“We have a fellow on death row right here in Florida who says he only gave a confession because the police were threatening to harm his fifteen year old son. And his son confessed only after the police fired off a gun right next to his ear.”
“Well that kind of a confession can be thrown out.”
“You would think so. Yet, even the Florida Supreme Court hasn’t been able to get past the confession. And that’s not unusual. In that study I mentioned, they found case after case of men who had confessed to crimes that occurred while the men were actually in jail. The juries were provided with the evidence from the police departments’ own records showing that the men had been in jail and could not have committed the murders. Yet the juries still convicted them because of the power of those false confessions. People just cannot believe that someone would confess to a crime they did not commit, even when the evidence proves they could not have done it.”
“So, the Biblical death penalty prohibited confessions. Do you think they were right, Chap?
First published: The Florida Catholic, January 10, 2002
© 2002 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
I Was In Prison
News & Updates
This ezine is targeted for people involved in prison ministry or in stopping the death penalty, we think you will find helpful information for people who are undecided about capital punishment, for those who have never experienced the inside of a jail or prison, and for those who feel called to participate through prayer and adoration.
Your name and information will never be used or sha#3333FF with anyone. We promise!
Dale S. Recinella
, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella
, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed