Coerced Confessions

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Gary Stuart, Senior Policy Advisor for ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, discusses his book about coerced confessions: “Innocent Until Interrogated: The True Story of the Buddhist Temple Massacre and the Tucson Four”.

Ted Simons: Under the right set of circumstances could you be made to confess to a horrible crime you didn't commit? Author Gary Stuart thinks so, he explores the topic in his new book, "Innocent Until Interrogated." It the 1991 massacre at a phoenix area Buddhist temple and explores the false confessions of suspects in case. Joining me now to talk about his book is Gary Stuart, an experienced trial attorney and senior policy advisor for the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

Gary Stuart: Thanks, thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: Was your original aim to write about the murders or to write about false confessions?

Gary Stuart: The original aim was to write about false confessions, and to put Americans into America's police stations to see what really happens some of the time. But then when I got into the story, the murder itself was quite captivating. And then the second seemingly unrelated murder was something that I knew almost nothing about.

Ted Simons: Let's get an overview of the Buddhist temple. A lot of folks probably aren't familiar with this or have a sketchy idea. Talk to us about that.

Gary Stuart: Well, on August 10th, 1991, two people broke into the Buddhist temple on the west side of Phoenix. One of them had a .22 rifle and the other had a .20 gauge shotgun. Before they left -- and nobody's quite sure what happened in between, but when they left they shot nine people, six Buddhist monks, a 75-year-old grandmother who was a nun in the monastery, her grandson who was 17, and a young acolyte monk. They shot them in grisly, horrific ways you could never imagine. This was not a frenzied killing, it was a slow, methodical, purposeful killing of nine people who didn't resist their deaths. Each iof these nine people were put next to each other, shoulder to shoulder, kneeling on the floor, and forced to put their foreheads on the floor. The shooters walked around. They walked around and shot everybody in the back of the head at least once, some of them twice, a couple of them three times. The shotgun shooter walked in the opposite direction. We have a grisly purposeful murder that created a captivated America for a while, because they were all Buddhist monks from Thailand.

Ted Simons: Now, let's get to the interrogation; let's get to the original suspects who confessed to the murders.

Gary Stuart: They did.

Ted Simons: Why did they do that?

Gary Stuart: The police induced them to confess. Those first four out of the five suspects gave patently false confessions that were not in the least bit supported by the forensic evidence at the crime scene, but nonetheless four of them confessed. It had to do with time, motivation, hopelessness, a feeling of powerlessness, and not understanding what their rights as citizens were. So they confessed over a two and a half-day period of time to a tag team of interrogators who came in, all in the same building, all at the same time, same circumstances for two and a half days. Four of the five confessed after that.

Ted Simons: Take us from there now. These people were confessing to something they didn't do. The people eventually convicted of the crime were still out there, especially one particular suspect.

Gary Stuart: October the 17th, some seven weeks after the first murders, as it turns out, a seemingly unrelated murder occurred at a campground at Lake Pleasant, north of Phoenix. Two people were involved in that crime, they used a .9 millimeter handgun and shot her in the back three times and killed her. That seemed to be an unrelated crime. The same unit of detectives at the Maricopa County sheriff's office investigated that crime. And they quickly honed in on a mental patient there at the crime scene, camp not far away, a separate camp. That person confessed falsely. That person did not commit that crime any more than the first four who confessed in the Buddhist case confessed to their crime.

Ted Simons: Why do people -- let's get to the eventual convictions of the two. After they found out, again, why do people do this?

Gary Stuart: There are lots of reasons but I'll only take your time up on the police-induced confessions. What happens in those situations -- and they are rare, but they happen often enough to make it an absolutely stunning and terrifying event in American criminal justice. People become so powerless during the interrogation phase, they feel so helpless that at some point they will do anything they need to do to get out of that room. They have to get out of that room. They don't think they can just walk away, even though they have been read Miranda rights and had waived their Miranda rights, they feel powerless. Lots of data, lots of reports, lots of lawsuits, lots of cases. The Innocence Project has a separate entity in every state now. Arizona has an innocence project headquartered out at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. But in all of those cases the overriding calculus is that the person finally somehow becomes totally immersed in the idea that they must have done it. In this particular case, the deputies created what they called a prop room. In there they put photographs of the victims, they put a crime scene diagram drawn to scale that shows where the bodies were at the time. They described the cars and the weapons and the route taken to get there to these -- what were then innocent suspects. But suspects that they believed had some connection because the first of the five suspects, that guy was a mental patient in the Tuscon Psychiatric Institute. He called the police from the psychiatric institute while he was a patient. He told them that he and four friends of his from Tuscon committed these crimes. Within a 24-hour period he not only confessed his own role in that, but took the police officers to the homes of his friends and showed them where they lived. They were brought up to Phoenix on a Wednesday night. Most of them were interrogated all night Wednesday, all day Thursday, half the night on Friday. Over a two and a half-day period of time, four of the five confessed because of what happened to them in the prop room.

Ted Simons: We have Seattle time. As far as the case is concerned, how did we get the right guys?

Gary Stuart: Well, the murder weapon was actually in the hands of the Police Department at the time. They didn't know it at the time, didn't know it was the murder weapon. They waited five weeks to examine the gun. They found out the gun could be easily and quickly traced to three young men on the west side. They arrested all three of those young men. They were all juveniles. Two were 16, one was 17. Two of the three confessed and admitted their roles in the crime. When they looked at the apartment of one of them, they found much of the loot, much of the evidence. And those two confessed. Ultimately what happened that is one of those confessions; Jonathan Andrew Duty was reversed on the grounds that the true confession was coerced. Now we have a case that not only involved multiple false confessions that were coerced, 16 we now have a true confession the court says was coerced, it's up on review.

Ted Simons: What kind of responses are you getting on this book, the idea of false confessions?

Gary Stuart: It is the most rewarding thing I could have imagined happening. This is my sixth book, very different because of the response to the book. Police officers, police departments, are very much in favor of the book and in favor of what I've revealed about the way this is happening. Police commanders have come to my lectures and presentations on this book. Most recently the police officer standards and training group has asked me to help them prepare a video to assist police officers or putative police officers in police academies into talking about how to avoid false confessions. Because none of these police officers wanted to extract false confessions. They weren't out there trying to convict people, they were trying to get people to talk, to confess, that they thought were guilty, when in fact they were not. It's a wonderful, good response.

Ted Simons: If I were to say a lot of folks would hear this and say, there's no way anyone could get me to confess to something this horrific --

Gary Stuart: Then they should read this book. I wrote this book to get Americans into the police station to show that all of us are not too smart, too strong, and too capable to be manipulated into something. If we invoke our rights, then maybe we can avoid it. But if you hang around for two and a half days like these guys did, you, too, might confess.

Ted Simons: Gary, it's an absolutely fascinating book, "Innocent Until Interrogated." Great work, congratulations on a good book and thank you for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Gary Stuart: Thank you.

Gary Stuart:Senior Policy Advisor for ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law;

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