Posted: June 13, 2013 6:00 PM
A review of murder convictions conducted by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit is investigating the possibility that a Brooklyn detective fabricated confessions of suspects that he interrogated. The review will look at 50 cases investigated by Detective Louis Scarcella that resulted in guilty verdicts.
The New York Times recently reviewed several of the cases in question and discovered that at least five confessions included the same phrases, putting Scarcella, who developed a reputation for eliciting confessions as a member of the Brooklyn North Homicide squad, under further scrutiny. The statements “you got it right” or “I was there” leads many of the confessions secured by Scarcella, including the alleged statement of David Ranta who was exonerated earlier this year.
Although scholars who study police interrogations say it is not uncommon for confessions to include traces of the detective’s speech, defense attorneys fighting the convictions and other academics who specialize in confessions find the similarities hard to believe.
“It’s sort of beyond belief that it would be coincidental,” said Steven Banks, chief lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, which is reviewing 20 cases handled by Mr. Scarcella.
“It’s hard to imagine all five people used the same exact words,” said Richard Leo, a University of San Francisco law professor who specializes in confessions. “It almost sounds like a template.”
In about 25% of nation’s DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.
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