For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 5

How to Detect a False
Confession
I
t is preaching to the choir to say that confession
cases are an uphill battle from the start. Even with
the publicity surrounding the ever-growing number
of confirmed false confession cases that are the direct
result of police interrogation practices, many people
still have a hard time wrapping their head around the
idea that an innocent person could confess to a crime
they did not commit. This belief can cause many to
disregard overwhelming evidence of innocence, even
DNA, just because the client said, " I did it. "
A classic case in point involves the 1988 murder of fouryear-old
Barbara Jean Horn in Philadelphia. Barbara
Jean had gone missing from her front yard, where she
had been playing. Her naked body was later found in
a cardboard box that a man had been seen carrying a
block or two from her home. The case went cold until it
was assigned four years later to Philadelphia Detectives
Martin Devlin and Paul Worrell. They began to focus
in on Walter Ogrod, who had lived across the street
from Barbara Jean at the time of her murder. Walter
was kept up all night and subjected to an unrecorded
interrogation by the detectives for several hours. The
result was a sixteen-page confession, handwritten out
by Detective Devlin. Despite the total lack of physical
James Trainum
evidence connecting Walter to the crime, as well as the
enormous inconsistencies between his " confession, "
witness accounts, and the crime scene, Walter was
convicted and spent nearly a quarter of a century
on death row. Though, over time, more and more
evidence of Walter's innocence came to light, it was his
confession that was the major stumbling block to his
eventual exoneration.1
Walter's case began just like any other false
confession case, with investigators who focused in
on an innocent person as their primary suspect. This
is not a rare occurrence, as high-profile examples of
innocent people convicted based on false confessions
(the " Central Park Five, " Marty Tankleff, the " Norfolk
Four, " and many others) illustrate.
Investigations are messy things, and investigators
are often confronted with incomplete information.
However, it should be self-correcting if the investigator
is applying the scientific method. Too often, the
investigator is under pressure to close the case and will
draw conclusions based on things other than evidence,
such as their own gut reactions. Investigators then fail
to reevaluate their original theories as new information
Vol. 6, Issue 2 l For The Defense 5

For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2

For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 1
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 2
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 3
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 4
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 5
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 6
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 7
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 8
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 9
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 10
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 11
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 12
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 13
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 14
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 15
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For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 17
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 18
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 19
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 20
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 21
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 22
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For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 24
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 25
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For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 28
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 29
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 30
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 31
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 32
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 33
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For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 41
For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 42
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