In criminal law evidence, a confession is a statement by a suspect in crime that incriminates that person. According to Roesch, Zapf & Hart (2009), in more than 25 percent DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, pled guilty or delivered outright confessions. This point out those confessions does not always come out of actual guilt or internal knowledge, but sometimes a product of external factors. Innocent people confess because of a variety of factors, including coercion, duress, diminished capacity, mental impairment, fear of violence, ignorance of the law, threat of harsh sentence, and the actual infliction of harm. The aim of this paper is to complete an analysis of a real-life situation dealing with confession of Johnny Lee Wilson for the murder of Pauline Martz.
Police found the body of Martz inside her burnt house and evidence suggest that she had been beaten, bound, and gagged. Town resident Gary Wall told the authorities that Wilson had informed him that he knew about the crime. The police arrested Wilson after began interrogating him (Midwest Innocence Project). Despite credible information pointing to other, the police focused on Wilson as the main suspect. An eyewitness had seen someone other than Wilson enter the home of Martz (Midwest Innocence Project). Leads in the investigation provided by authorities indicated that a career criminal named Chris Brownfield had history of killing and robbing elderly women. The authorities interrogated Wilson in the absence of an attorney for more than eight hours. Wilson vehemently denied any connection to the crime at first, but with leading questions coming from the investigators repeatedly and threat of harsh sentence if he did not “tell the truth,” his determination began to fade (Midwest Innocence Project). The authority first convinced Wilson to say that he had colluded with two other men to commit the crime, after which the interrogators used leading questions to make Wilson admit that he committed the crime alone.
It easy to explain some confession by the mental state of the confessor, for example in the case of Wilson, mental health professionals had pointed out that he had lower mental capability. People with mental disabilities often give false confessions because they attempt to accommodate and agree with authority figures. This could have been the case with Wilson, who confessed out of his efforts to accommodate the authorities. In addition, many interrogators do not have formal training on questioning suspects with mental illness. This could have led to false admissions of guilt (Midwest Innocence Project). The length of interrogation could have also affected the results of the confessions because even mentally capable people also give false confessions due to factors such as exhaustion, length of interrogation, or a belief that they can receive help after confessing and proving their innocence later.
This was a case of injustice because Wilson was coerced to give false confession on a crime he never committed. Confessions do not always come out of actual guilt or internal knowledge, but sometimes a product of external factors. Law enforcement authorities should consider the pertinent issues involved in ensuring a true confession.
Midwest Innocence Project. (n.d).Johnny Lee Wilson. Retrieved from http://themip.org/JohnnyWilson
Roesch, R., Zapf, P.A. and Hart, S. (2009). Forensic psychology and law. New York: John Wiley & Sons.