Wrongful Conviction Expert Brandon Garrett: ‘False Confessions Plague Death Penalty Cases’
In an editorial published yesterday in the
, Professor of Law at the University of Virginia Brandon Garrett wrote about the recent clemency granted to Missouri death row inmate Kimber Edwards, an autistic man who was sentenced to death in 2002 for murder. While solid evidence suggests that Edwards may not have committed the crime, Edwards was convicted based mainly on his own confession. Garrett writes that death row cases like Edwards’ warrant close examination because too often innocent people falsely confess to crimes that they did not commit:
False confessions plague death penalty cases. I have found that in half of the 20 cases where individuals sentenced to death have later been exonerated by DNA evidence, false confessions occurred. Each of those confessions supposedly included specific details of the crime that only the murderer could have known. One half of the cases also involved testimony by police informants who falsely claimed to have overheard confessions. Intellectual disability is entwined with false confessions; one-third of those exonerated by DNA testing who had falsely confessed were mentally ill or intellectually disabled.
If the jury had heard about Edwards’ history of Asperger’s, learning disabilities, and childhood abuse, they would have understood why he might falsely confess. And they might never have considered him to be among the “worst of the worst.” Intellectually disabled people, today, are not constitutionally permitted to be subject to the death penalty.
In conclusion, Garrett raises: “There are so many ways a high-profile murder case can go wrong.” In light of this, we must carefully assess and scrutinize investigations before we assign severe sentencing. “No one should ever have to serve a life in prison for a lie,” says Garrett.
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