Friday, October 1, 2010

Innocent Until Interrogated - Gary L. Stuart


In a typical cloak and dagger drama, the ultimate coupe for a police officer is to capture a confession on tape in an interrogation or on an undercover wire. Haha! Now you've got the bad guys right where you want them. Off they go to prison, and justice is served. End of story. The average person would believe this to be a critical and effective part of our justice system. Once you read "Innocent Until Interrogated" however, you'll never quite be able to forget the chilling truth.

On August 10, 1991, a cook walked into a Buddhist temple outside of Tuscon AZ where she worked and discovered all nine of its monks slain, with gunshot wounds to the head. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office launched one of their biggest manhunts in history. Despite their discovery of the actual murder weapon (which was forgotten for a period of time in evidence storage somewhere) they chose to focus all of their efforts on the ramblings of a mentally disturbed man looking for some attention. Spewing names of his friends and neighbors as accomplices, he admitted to the crime, with the story getting bigger and more inconsistent as time passed. Four of the named men were taken into custody and interrogated under extreme duress, and despite their protestations of innocence, were eventually bullied into confessing. Although no hard evidence was ever collected to substantiate their guilt, and some of their confessions were recanted after a good night's sleep, they were incarcerated for over a year.

Let's turn back to that murder weapon now. Months after the apprehension of the "Tuscon Four", ballistics tests showed that the forgotten rifle already in the Sheriff's Office possession was one of the guns used in the slayings, and pointed towards two teenage boys. These boys were also brought in for questioning, and were similarly beaten down and stressed into a confession. One of them, in wrangling a plea bargain to escape the death penalty, also confesses to killing a young woman after the Buddhist slayings. A murder that had since been incorrectly pinned on an unstable war veteran.

I'll let all that information sink in for a minute.

What we have here is a big. hot. mess.

Sorry to put you through all that detail, but the case was incredibly complicated. And to understand all the ways legal rights were ignored, all the tragedies that occurred as a result of this fiasco, and all the collateral damage left in the wake, I felt like I needed to go there.

It seems inconceivable that innocent men would admit to murder, but under the right circumstances (police officers with the tunnel vision to solve the murder at any price, the application of extreme duress, and the mental instability, low self-esteem and low education of a suspect) a person will confess to anything in order to be left alone. I almost could not get through the section where these four men were being interrogated. It was PAINFUL. It was brain-numbing, repetitive, brutal, and shocking.

It begs the question - how often this situation does occur each year? This was only one example! In "Innocent Until Interrogated", after you have read what I would consider a thorough accounting of the evidence and testimonies, you have a pretty good idea of who did the shooting, and who went along for the ride. But because of the gross mishandling of the case, the truth is hidden behind plea bargains, egos, politics, and red tape.

And truth wasn't the only casualty. The Tuscon Four had their lives and reputations literally ruined, and lost over a year in prison. They were all eventually compensated for their troubles, but I suspect they will never be quite the same. And what about the poor young woman that was murdered after the Buddhist slayings, and the man incorrectly arrested for that crime? These events never would have occurred had proper procedure had been followed. For those who believe in the system like me, it is enough to make you sick.

The writing itself felt a bit dry at times. True crime details can be tedious, and it takes a deft hand to make it flow for the layperson. In fact, it took me about three days to read 30 pages, but once I was able to sit down and concentrate, I moved through the book fairly quickly. Crunch through the facts, though, and you will find yourself more than a little unsettled at how easily an innocent person can find themselves on the wrong side of the law. It reminded me of my recent reading of "Monster of Florence", and I wanted to add Arizona to my list of places to try not to screw up or be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thanks to Holly Schaffer at the University of Arizona Press, I have one copy of "Innocent Until Interrogated" to give away. Simply indicate if you are interested in the comments with an e-mail address, and I will choose a random winner on October 8th. I'd also like to thank Jen @ Devourer of Books, who chose my name for the giveaway of this book, and Holly for sending it to me!

3.5 out of 5 stars


15 comments:

Zibilee said...

This sounds truly frightening. I have heard stories of people being convicted of crimes after confessing after obvious duress, but this sounds like it goes to a whole different level. And I agree, for a person who still believes in the justice system it is dismaying and shocking.

I would love to read this one and get the full picture, so please do enter me in your giveaway, and thanks for hosting it!

zibilee(at)figearo(dot)net

S. Krishna said...

No need to enter me, as I have this one for review. I definitely want to read this book, though it seems like it will be really frustrating! Thanks for the review.

bermudaonion said...

I actually saw a piece on 20/20 or 60 Minutes about just this very thing. They did an experiment on some very bright college students and were able to get them to confess to all kinds of things they couldn't possibly do. It is very frightening!!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I don't want to enter, but I'm wondering why Maricopa County handled the crime when Tucson is in Pima County.

heidenkind said...

And that's why you should never talk to the police without a lawyer present.

Kathleen said...

Scary stuff. You know I have to read this one even though it might be a bit hard to get through!

Iliana said...

No need to enter me Sandy as the book seems a bit too much for me now but thank you for mentioning it though. I vaguely recall that crime. I feel so sad for all the victims.

Jenners said...

This sounds just chilling. I can't imagine being coerced into confessing something I didn't do.

No need to enter me though .. I don't think I have the brain power for this right now.

Aram said...

Very interesting review of a subject that is vastly underreported (coerced false confessions). As a retired public defender (in Northern California), I am very aware that the police regularly use extreme interrogation tactics, on the most vulnerable of our citizens. Numerous wrongful convictions (probably numbering in the thousands each year, nationwide), go undiscovered--- as a result of a lack of awareness of this often little understood phenomenon. Not only do the police routinely engage in this deplorable tactic, but frequently both prosecutors and defense attorneys fail, for a lack of understanding of this often draconian process, to uncovered that this very tactic has been employed on the individual charged with a crime. One of the greatest miscarriages/ironies to grow out of this lack of understanding of the interrogation process, is the frequency of defense attorneys pressuring their own clients to enter guilty pleas-- as a result of a coerced false confession that has not been properly investigated. So it is, that the very person sworn to defend the constitutional rights of the accused--- unwittingly acts as an arm of the police and the prosecution.
Yes, please enter me in your drawing for this much needed book. Thanks much for your review.
abjpd1@gmail.com or abjpd1@juno.com

Alice Teh said...

Hi Sandy, I'd like to try my luck on this one if you deliver internationally. This book frightens me but at the same time, I'm curious about what the things that the victims have to go through. Thanks!

teh(dot)alice(at)gmail(dot)com

Trisha said...

I have to admit I skimmed this review since I still have it on my TBR shelves! I did read enough to know that I shouldn't keep putting it off though. :)

Melody said...

Absolutely intriguing and mind-boggling!! Thanks for the great review, Sandy!

The Bumbles said...

It always makes me so frustrated to read/watch these kind of reports. Fear is a great motivator. I tell myself all the time that if ever I am in the wrong place at the wrong time I will lawyer up ASAP. I had a friend involved in a minor scuffle after a concert that turned into a major charge. He said the experience of not knowing what was happening clouded his judgment and knowing that he was not at fault led him to just do whatever the police said/asked because he trusted them to not be the enemy and to at least tell him what his options were. Wrong decision in his particular case. Generally in times of chaos the mind is not clear - I would love to read more about the topic.

MARIA said...

I remember when this happened. It was devistating for all who knew the Tucson four who were wrongfully arrested. I grew up with 3 of the four and "crazy Mike". We were all in disbelief when we found out they had confessed to the killings. They were the nicest guys we refused to believe they had done such a horrible act. I would love to be entered in the drawing for the book.

Holly Schaffer said...

Thanks for the review, Sandy! This book details some pretty unbelievable mistakes by those sworn to protect us . . . important reading for everyone.

@rhapsodyinbooks - the massacre took place at the Wat Promkunaram Buddhist temple, which is in Phoenix (Maricopa County).