False Confessions: A Review of 2014

2014 was a landmark year in false confessions. Here's my year-end list of highlights.
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2014 was a landmark year in false confessions. Here's my year-end list of highlights:


Charges are dropped against Denzel Garbutt, a Chicago teen who confessed to shooting a 12 year old boy, after it is learned that he was at a prom on the Near North Side when the boy was shot on the Far South Side.

The Cook County State's Attorney's Office vacates the murder conviction of Deon Patrick, one of seven young men who falsely confessed to participating in a 1992 double murder in Chicago. Patrick, who served 22 years in prison, is the second defendant to be exonerated, following Daniel Taylor who was freed in 2013. Patrick, Taylor, and Nicole Harris, another Chicago false confessor, receive Certificates of Innocence later in the month, qualifying them for compensation from the state.

Daniel Villegas, of El Paso, is freed after serving 19 years in prison for a murder he confessed to when only 17 years old. He is placed on bond pending a retrial after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agrees to vacate his conviction.

Sterling Samm, of San Francisco, is acquitted of first degree murder when a jury finds that his confession was not credible.


Antonio Yarbrough and Shariff Wilson are exonerated of a triple murder by DNA testing after serving 22 years in prison.
King's County DA Kenneth Thompson vacates their convictions after DNA found underneath Yarbrough's mother's fingernails is matched to DNA found on another murder victim who had been killed while Yarbrough and Wilson were in prison.

Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, while dying of cancer, writes an open letter to King's County DA Kenneth Thompson, asking him to reinvestigate the cases of David McCallum and Willie Stuckey, two Brooklyn teens who Carter insists are innocent of a 1985 murder.


Latisha Johnson, only 18 when she falsely confessed to a murder in the Bronx, is released after nearly a decade in prison along with her co-defendant Malisha Blyden.

In 2013, murder charges against Kosgar Lado, a Sudanese refugee living in Lansing, Michigan, were dropped when new evidence implicating others surfaced. Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunning III, however, continued to pursue felony charges against the mentally ill Lado for lying when he falsely confessed to police. After the community rallies to support Lado and the local paper rails against Dunning's decision, Dunning drops the felony charges.


David and Me, a documentary about the wrongful convictions of David McCallum and Willie Stuckey directed by Marc Lamy and Ray Klonsky, is released at the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto. The film, which also features Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, premieres only days before Carter dies of cancer.


Reginald Adams' murder conviction is vacated and he is released after 34 years in prison when the New Orleans Parish DA agrees that Adams' confession is unreliable and that former prosecutors had buried evidence linking others to the crime.

US Dept of Justice reverses its longstanding policy against electronic recording of statements of criminal suspects, stating that "[A]udio recording, preferably with video, is presumptively required for interrogations of suspects in custody, with some exceptions."


Adrian Thomas, whose 2008 confession to murdering his four-month old son, was tossed out in 2013 by the New York Court of Appeals, is acquitted by a jury. Thomas's case had been the subject of Scenes of a Crime, Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock's 2011 documentary.


Arson Charges are dismissed against Trinity High School Principal Thomas Sander after a North Dakota judge finds that police coerced his confession. According to news accounts, police had ignored the confession of a student who admitted to burning down the school.


Lewis Gardner and Paul Phillips, two other co-defendants of Deon Patrick and Daniel Taylor, are granted certificates of innocence.

Trevon Yates, an East St. Louis, IL. teenager, files a lawsuit against the St. Clair County Sheriff's Office, alleging that officers coerced him into falsely confessing to an armed robbery.

Jamie Lee Peterson, of Kalkaska MI, is released after serving 17 years in prison for a rape-murder that he confessed to, but did not commit.


Leon Brown and his half-brother Henry Lee McCollum are freed after serving 30 years in prison. The two men were only teenagers when they confessed to participating in the rape-murder of an 11-year-old girl in Red Springs, N.C. Both men were given the death penalty and McCollum was still on death row at the time of his release. Ken Rose, McCollum's long-time death penalty defense lawyer, vents his frustration in a powerful Op-ed.

The District of Columbia is named as a defendant in a $5 million dollar lawsuit centered on the statements of former D.C. homicide detective, James Trainum, who spoke about his role in obtaining a false murder confession from "Kim" in "Kim Possible", an episode of This American Life that aired in October 2013.

Michelle Murphy, a 17-year old Tulsa, OK native who falsely confessed to murdering her infant son, is exonerated after serving 20 years in prison.


David McCallum's conviction is thrown out and he is freed after serving 29 years in prison. DA Kenneth Thompson publicly declares that the confessions of McCallum and Stuckey are false.

Billy Wayne Cope's appeal to the United States Supreme Court is denied. Cope argued that he was denied a fair trial in South Carolina when he was not allowed to inform the jury that the man who raped and murdered his daughter had committed a string of break-ins and sexual assaults in the wake of her death.

The North Carolina Innocence Commission exonerates Willie Womble after new evidence proves he is innocent. Womble served 38 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

Yesenia Santiago, accused by Chicago police of killing her son, is released after new evidence proves she was locked up on the day her son was killed.

Judges for Justice releases a series of expert reports that question the guilt of Chris Tapp, a man serving life in prison for the murder of Idaho Falls native Angie Dodge.


Lawyers for Teina Pora, a New Zealander, travel to London to argue to the Privy Council that Pora's confession to a rape-murder was false and that DNA evidence proves the crime was committed by a serial rapist.

The Manhattan DA's Office drops child molestation charges against Malthe Thomsen, a Danish intern at a Manhattan pre-school.

Christian Meissner, a psychology professor at Iowa State University, co-authors online brochure, a "how to guide" for interrogating high-value detainees and gathering valuable intelligence without obtaining false confessions. The brochure, which is based on the best social science research, takes on added significance when a few weeks later, the Senate Intelligence Committee releases its Report on the CIA's use or torture in its post 9-11 detention and interrogation practices .


Buffalo, N.Y. native Josue Ortiz is freed after 10 years in prison when the Erie County District Attorney recognizes that Ortiz falsely confessed to a double murder in 2004.

An Arizona appellate court dismisses all criminal charges against former death row inmate Debra Milke finding that Maricopa County prosecutors engaged in egregious misconduct. Milke, who spent 24 years on death row for the 1989 murder of her son, will have to weather one more appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.

A South Carolina court vacates the conviction of George Stinney a 14 year old black child who was coerced into confessing to the murders of two white girls and executed in 1944.

2014 will also be remembered as a record-breaking year in terms of the amount of money paid by state and local governments to compensate wrongfully convicted defendants who falsely confessed. Although no amount of money can make up for losing the prime years of their lives, several defendants settled their lawsuits or won sizeable jury verdicts for their pain and suffering, including the Central Park Five, the Dixmoor Five, David Ranta, Frank Sterling, Martin Tankleff, and Jeffrey Deskovic.

As 2014 draws to a close, my thoughts are with all the innocent men and women who falsely confessed but who must spend yet another Holiday season behind bars. Here's wishing a Happy New Year to you and your families and may 2015 bring you your freedom and some measure of justice.

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