A Murder he Confessed To, But did not Commit

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Two days ago, the NY Times had an article about a man freed by DNA testing, after being convicted and serving ten years in jail for murder.

This, despite the fact that prosecutors insisted they had a valid confession from him.

The relevance to a current situation in Israel is rather obvious, is it not?

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13 Responses

  1. Michoel says:

    To Harry and Holy,
    Of course a baby’s death matters. But the next 100 years of the father’s and mother’s lives also matter. As do the lives of the father’s mother and father etc. You say we need to not think the worst of the Israeli justice system. Fine. But should we then self-delude ourselves and think the best of it? A young frum man’s life is also at stake. His wife believes he is innocent (we are told). So why should there not be a chiuv of “b’tzedek tishpot es amisecha”? No one is suggesting to let him substitute at a gan somewhere. He is incarcerated. Now let us pursue the truth with an even hand, and with rachmanus al pi Torah.

  2. HILLEL says:

    In Russia, it was a routine procedure for the NKVD to extract “confessions” from virtually everone that they took into custody.

    The NKVD (Soviet secret police)arrested the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson ZT”L, for the terrible crimes of organizing Torah classes and participating in Brit Milah and other Jewish rituals.. He was told that he would not be released until he named his “co-conspiritos” and signed a prepared “confession.”–He refused.

    Finally, after the NKVD saw that the Rebbe was prepared to go to his death if necessary, to protect his fellow-Jews, they gave up, took him to the exit of the prison at the top of a stairway, and threw him down the stairs.

    I have often pondered whether I would have had the strength that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, ZT”L, demonstrated on that occasion.

  3. J.I. says:

    The relevance to a current situation in Israel is rather obvious, is it not?

    No, it is not. In the Valis case there is no exculpatory evidence.

  4. Tal Benschar says:

    “And if there were one case in which a kosher beit din found an accused guilty and punished him based on the testimony of 2 kosher witnesses and the witnesses were later found to be someplace else, would you throw out the Torah?

    Comment by Zalman — May 21, 2006”

    The Torah contemplates this very possibility in the parsha of edim zomemim. So the answer is obviously no.

  5. Toby Katz says:

    A confession means one of two things: the guy is guilty. Or he is innocent.

    Likewise, the retraction of a confession means the guy is innocent. Or he is guilty.

    If I am not mistaken, confessions are not accepted as evidence in the proceedings of the Sanhedrin.

    Why would someone confess to a crime he had not committed? Four reasons that have definitely happened to some people in the past (there may be more I haven’t thought of):

    1. Intense physical pressure such as sleep deprivation, very hot or very cold room, isolation, threats — some people are more vulnerable than other. Plus Israel does not have exactly the same laws America does — in the States, if the police beat the guy, any subsequent confession would be thrown out of court, not so in Israel, where the police are known to rough people up with some frequency. Also in America if the guy was not read his rights before confessing (“You have a right to remain silent, you have a right to an attorney, etc”) the confession is inadmissible in court, not so in Israel, which makes confessions obtained under Israeli law a bit more suspect — not less suspect — than those obtained under American law.

    2. Related to “threats,” above — if the police doing the interrogating manage to convince the perp (or the suspect) that they have enough evidence against him to put him away for a hundred years — or if they convince him that they have planted evidence and will put him away regardless of his guilt or innocence — they may be able to get him to agree to a plea bargain in which he confesses to a lesser crime in exchange for a lighter sentence. If he totally believes that he has no hope, he may confess even though he knows he’s innocent, especially if he’s not too bright. Sometimes his own attorney (especially a court-appointed attorney when the suspect is impecunious) will urge him to take a plea bargain, not believing his own client’s protestations of innocence. In the States a person facing the death penalty and not sure he can prove his innocence may be so frightened that he accepts a plea bargain which at least ensures he will not be executed.

    3. Sometimes a person feels so guilty that he confesses even though he is technically innocent — for instance a person who thinks he caused his own child’s death by neglect or stupidity or unduly rough play etc may think in his own mind that he is really a murderer even though he is technically innocent under the law.

    4. Related to the above, mentally ill people will sometimes confess to all sorts of outlandish things, sometimes because they consider themselves to be evil people deserving of punishment.

    Despite all the above, I am a conservative Republican and do tend to assume that 99% of the time people who confess are in fact guilty — the presumption of innocence no longer applies, but rather innocence must be proven, when there is a confession.

    In the Valis case I have absolutely no idea whether the father is innocent or guilty, and I hope that the truth will come out, whatever it is.

  6. Zalman says:

    And if there were one case in which a kosher beit din found an accused guilty and punished him based on the testimony of 2 kosher witnesses and the witnesses were later found to be someplace else, would you throw out the Torah?

  7. Holy Hyrax says:

    A baby died under mysterious circumstances doesn’t that mean anything to anybody?

    Sadly, I think many people have forgotten.

  8. Ezzie says:

    There are also other factors here, such as the opinion of the ME, in addition to the points from everyone above.

  9. SephardiLady says:

    Let’s not be silly and draw conclusions because one out of tens of thousands of confessed murders had a false confessions. Let’s see the evidence from the trial and hear from the jury.

  10. S. says:

    Will you now advocate for anyone in this situation?

  11. Harry Maryles says:

    The relevance to a current situation in Israel is rather obvious, is it not?

    Yes and no. Just because forced confessions are sometimes made by innocent people does not mean it happened in the Valis case. Why not let the justice system take its course. This case has attracted international attention and has the entire Charedi community up in arms just because they cannot imagine this fellow having done what he has been accused of.

    The best way to handle this now is to get this fellow the best legal representation possible. You know, it IS possible the confession is the truth and wasn’t coerced. Recanting his confession doesn’t mean he didn’t do it anymore than the confession guarantees that he did. The bottom line is that justice needs to be served and for everyone to stop thinking the worst of the Israeli justice system. A baby died under mysterious circumstances doesn’t that mean anything to anybody? Isn’t it important to find out the truth here?

  12. ao says:

    Could have relevance to many situtation, both current and past.

  13. Amanda Rush says:

    And this situation beggs the same question the other one does. If neither of these people committed the murders they’re accused of, then why are they confessing to them? I don’t get it. If I haven’t committed a crime, then there’s no way I’m going to confess, except maybe under threat of torture. Under US law, and I assume under Israeli law as well, you can’t torture someone in order to obtain a confession in a civilion situation, even if it is a criminal case. Torturing under military circumstances is also up for some serious debate, and I won’t get into that now. But torturing in a civilion situation is a definite no-no.
    So, if neither of these men are being or have been tortured, (and I haven’t seen any reports that make the claim that they were/have been), then why the confessions?
    BTW, this is also similar to a case in Tenessee.
    Man confessed to committing murder, then retracts his confession fourteen years later and gets a stay of execution.