A Bronx District Attorney, Darcel Clark, leads a wide-ranging inquiry into whether three detectives’ tactics had tainted guilty verdicts in 31 homicide cases. All of the detectives are currently under review for coercion.
The inquiry highlights whether past deceptive police interrogation tactics altered the criminal justice system through false confessions. New York prosecutors claim this resulted in multiple wrongful convictions. Hundreds of nationwide cases concerning prisoners later proved as not guilty came to light. The discovery of new evidence and DNA resulted in many releases.
The cases under review date back to an era of high crime levels in New York. According to the New York Times, the police faced significant pressure to make arrests at the time. However, exoneration experts claim that the police moved too fast and ignored evidence.
On January 5 1989, police questioned Huwe Burton, 16, over the murder of his mother, who was stabbed to death. Burton had spent the day at school, then his girlfriend’s house before coming home to find his mother dead. After 48 hours of questioning, with little food or sleep, police obtained a false confession. In 2019, the Innocence Project saw Burton exonerated as a result of a lack of evidence.
The National Registry of Exonerations concluded official misconduct contributed to more than half of the 2,400 Americans exonerated between 1989 and 2019. For Black men wrongly convicted, it is significantly higher at 78%. Furthermore, since 1992 courts overturned 44 cases in New York alone because of false confessions.
District Attorney Clark will not release the names of the defendants in the cases. However, Clark suggested the detectives were following standard procedure at the time. Records link the detectives involved in the Burton case with three other homicide cases reviewed in court. The detectives – Stanely Schiffman, Sevelie Jones, and Frank Viggiano, declined interviews from the New York Times.
Gina Mignola, deputy general counsel of the inquiry unit, says her team faces a difficult task. The cases are decades old so finding new suspects and witnesses will be challenging.