The video provided is a documentary of the men who came to be called The Norfolk Four, and who were accused of the rape and murder of a woman none of them actually knew. The largest problem with this case and the documentary regarding it was not even that the men were wrongly accused, because that can happen to anyone. The issue is the lengths to which the police and prosecutors went in order to make sure they got convictions for these men, even though the way they went about getting these convictions -- and the confessions that started them down that path -- were so flawed that they should have been thrown out immediately. The idea that the confessions were not thrown out is shocking, frightening, and honestly, a little bit nauseating. It seems as though it could happen to any innocent person, all because he or she was completely beat down by a detective and a justice system that would do anything just to lock someone up for a crime, and did not seem to care about verifying whether that person was actually guilty.
The person first accused of raping and killing Michelle Bosco was Danial Williams, her next door neighbor. He was asked to take a polygraph and was told he failed it. However, he actually passed. He was told he should start telling the truth, and interrogated for nine hours. This is a tactic that is sometimes taken by officers, but it usually not carried to the extreme (Hartwig, et al., 2006). In some cases, though, detectives can continue to interrogate a person to his or her breaking point, insisting that the person is lying and making an argument no matter what the alleged guilty party says (Morgan, et al., 2004). While this is something that seems unacceptable -- and is unacceptable -- the idea that it can still happen in a society where justice is supposed to be realistic and honest is a difficult concept to handle. It can make even the most law-abiding person frightened of what could happen to him or her if someone in the police department decides that person must be the guilty party. The evidence does not seem to matter at that point.
Danial was yelled at and verbally abused all night, with the officer insisting that he had lied. He continued to insist he had not done anything, but was getting tired, hungry, and incredibly stressed from the constant denial of his protestations of innocence. However, police assume someone is guilty if they are interrogating the person for hours, and all they want to do at that point is get a confession (Hartwig, et al., 2006). Eventually another detective was brought in, who had a reputation for getting people to confess. Danial finally confessed after 11 straight hours of interrogation, even though he did not commit the crime. There is so much psychological pressure with an interrogation that it can cause people to break (Hartwig, et al., 2006). These people can assume the only way to make it stop is to confess (Hartwig, et al., 2006). This is what happened to Danial, whose confession was not even consistent with any of the actual facts of the crime.
Once the autopsy came in, there were more questions for Danial because the information he gave did not match with the autopsy. Then the police had Danial modify his statement so it more closely matched what had actually happened to the victim. He should have been released at that time, because he could not be the guilty party if he did not even know how the crime had happened. His family could not believe that he was arrested, and when he called them he said he did not do it and he just wanted to go home, because his new wife had cancer. He became concerned about not standing his ground, and he never asked for a lawyer. Many people think you do not need a lawyer if you are innocent, but a lawyer is always a good idea when a person is arrested, especially if there is an interrogation taking place (Hartwig, et al., 2006). Four months later, DNA from the crime scene showed that Danial was not a match. Instead of releasing him, the police decided he must have had an accomplice. While that should have been shocking, by that point in the video it was becoming apparent that the police would do whatever it took to keep Danial in prison.
The DNA results were kept secret from Danial, while the police pursued another man named Joe. Eventually, Joe also confessed due to the same kinds of interrogation tactics. He, like Danial, was also told he failed the polygraph, and was worn down mentally and emotionally. The questions were very leading, asking whether something happened a certain way, as opposed to asking how things happened. The confessions of both of the men were clearly coerced, and the police had determined they were guilty before they ever started questioning them. More DNA was taken from Joe, and he was convinced that would free him. He was imprisoned anyway, and the lawyers for both men believed that they were guilty from the beginning because they had confessed. Even when Joe was told his DNA did not match, his confession kept him behind bars and he was told he needed to cooperate in order to have the death penalty taken off the table and removed from the case.
Two other men were also implicated by Joe, and arrested. Both eventually confessed under the same coercion tactics that were used on the first two men, and all four were found guilty at trial. Even though Joe had not been at the crime scene, he picked out men who had been with him and Danial during the crime. That was one of the most fascinating parts of the video, how Joe was focused on doing whatever he could to make his sentence lighter even though it would be harming people who had nothing to do with the crime at all. These men all had their lives destroyed in a snowball effect that started with one tired man and an overzealous, dirty, dishonest detective. The level to which the case grew was almost unreal based on what should have been a simple issues of questioning a person and releasing him for lack of evidence, without any charges.
Charges without any proof or even valid suspicion mean this could happen to anyone. All four men ended up in prison, where they spent many years of their lives for a crime they had not committed. None of them had any motive, none of them had DNA at the crime scene, and they had all insisted they had not done anything or had any involvement in the crime until they had been badgered for hours by the same man -- Robert Glenn Ford. Ford was eventually indicted on extortion charges and convicted of two of those four charges, which prompted lawyers to call for an exoneration for the four men, who by that time had all been released from prison. While they had a partial pardon, they were not "free" in the sense that their convictions were not overturned and they were required to register as sex offenders. The men have never been cleared of the charges, despite all of the evidence indicating they did not commit the crimes and despite the gross miscarriage of justice that took place.
The issues with this case seem almost as though they were crafted for something out of a movie, as they are so over the top that they are hardly believable. The idea that a person -- let alone four people -- would confess to a crime they had no involvement in seems crazy, but the psychological ramifications of that level of interrogation can be startling. Some people are simply stronger mentally and emotionally than others (Hartwig, et al., 2006). These people would never confess to something they did not do, no matter whether it was something big or small. On the other end of the spectrum there are people who are weaker, and who would confess more easily because they could not handle the pressure of an interrogation (Hartwig, et al., 2006). Most people fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, but even most of those people can be "broken" if interrogated long enough.
While human psychology is fascinating, this case shows the kinds of problems that can happen when one person's mental state is much stronger than another person, and when that strong person is relentless in what he or she wants from the interaction. Before Danial ever set foot in the police station, he had already been judged guilty. The same was true of the other men, even though none of them had been anywhere near the crime scene and DNA evidence proved they were not there. Being deceptive often does work to get a…