June 01, 2011

False Confessions

Confessions are powerful in the courtroom, but not all confessions are genuine. Sometimes details that make a confession seem believable are unintentionally supplied by the police.

Brandon L. Garrett

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In January 1984, a 16-year-old girl disappeared in Detroit, Michigan. Neighbors searched and found her body in an abandoned parking garage. She had been brutally raped and strangled. Forensic analysts examined swabs from the victim and a green bottle used to assault her. They detected sperm, but no further analysis was done. Months passed, and the crime remained unsolved.

Then a young man named Eddie Joe Lloyd offered to help. He was involuntarily committed in the Detroit Psychiatric Institute, a mental hospital, with a preliminary diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder. He had written letters to police about several unsolved murders, and he said a man had told him about the death of this 16-year-old girl. He mentioned a green bottle. His mental illness included “delusions that he had a special ability to solve crimes.” Jeremy W. Peters, “Wrongful Conviction Prompts Detroit Police to Videotape Certain Interrogations,” N.Y. Times, Apr. 11, 2006. Despite his manifest mental illness, the hospital allowed Lloyd to be interviewed by police, and they did interview him several times.

Police said that Lloyd ultimately did more than try to help them solve a case. They said that when they spoke to him, he suddenly said, “I want to confess to the killing.” He described the killing in detail. Police claimed he had been “anxious to give a formal statement.” He finally signed a written statement and gave a tape-recorded statement. He was arrested and charged with murder. At his criminal trial in 1985, the jury heard the taped statement. There was no other evidence of guilt.


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