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Teens allegedly coerced into false confessions get case heard again

On Behalf of | Mar 27, 2020 | Criminal law

After confessing, four teens were convicted of the 2002 killing the grandfather of NBA player Chris Paul. Now men, they made headlines again as the North Carolina justice system contemplated the possibility of exoneration after they claimed their confessions as teens were coerced, according to a courtroom report from The News & Observer in Raleigh.

The four men testified that they weren’t in the location of Jones’ death until after the crime happened. They claimed they didn’t know who killed Jones and had been coerced by law enforcement as teens into confessing their guilt.

After a lengthy hearing, the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission voted 5-3, finding sufficient evidence of factual innocence to deliver the cases of the four men to a panel of three superior court judges to decide whether to exonerate any of them.

The four had been awaiting a reversal of their guilty verdict for about 18 long years.

Two of the accused were 15 and 14, respectively, during Jones’ death, and they were sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder. The others, who were 15, were released from prison after serving time for convictions of murder in the second degree.

The investigators in Jones’ killing were reported to have questioned the teens separately, which was when the alleged coercion happened. The Winston-Salem police detectives who questioned them told the teens about the death penalty, despite juveniles being immune from execution in North Carolina. Eighteen years later, those former teens said they felt threatened at the time and would have admitted anything to be released.

An expert on the issue of police interrogations, psychologist Hayley Cleary, compared the teens’ accounts to those of the Central Park Five case in New York City, in which suspects made false confessions and were convicted.

“In both of these cases, investigators questioned the youths separately, sometimes for extended periods of time,” Cleary was quoted in the news story. “Each suspect was presented with the notion that some other suspect is implicating them — so you might as well confess.”

It’s impossible to tell from just reading an article whether or not the four men told the truth, and it’s not for us as readers to decide. However, it’s true that nobody deserves to be convicted of crimes they didn’t commit or to be coerced by anybody into making a false confession.

If you are implicated in an alleged crime, it’s important that you fully understand your rights, know your legal options and seek out an experienced attorney for legal defense.