Last week (19 Aug) the New York Times Magazine carried an extraordinary tale of possible false confessions which is well worth checking out before it disappears into the NYT archive.
Even in the upside-down world of wrongful convictions, the extravagant case of Joseph Dick and his supposed partners in crime is in a class of its own… To conclude that Joseph Dick is innocent, you must first believe that the tape-recorded confession he gave to the police was untrue and, second, that three other men who said they committed the brutal crime with Dick also falsely confessed. In addition, you must believe that Dick perjured himself when he helped convict two of those co-defendants by testifying against them at their trials for rape and murder, lied when he named five other accomplices and lied moments before a judge gave him a double life sentence when he apologized to the parents of [the victim], declaring, “I know I shouldn’t have done it; I have got no idea what went through my mind that night, and my soul.”
This is a lot to accept. But perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this case is that these may be the most logical conclusions to draw. When I met Dick… he told me he had proclaimed to investigators his innocence of any involvement in the crime for more than seven hours. … Dick told me that he finally …[confessed] “to avoid the death penalty.”
… By the time he became a witness for the state, Dick explained, he had convinced himself he was guilty. Police officers, prosecutors and even his own lawyer insisted that he had committed the crime. “They messed up my mind and made me believe something that wasn’t true,” he said.