Wrongful Conviction Watch: 16 year old wrongfully convicted of murdering his own mother; 19 years in prison

Here is a video of Burton: 

Imagine the horror to a 16 year old of having your parent murdered. Now multiply that 100,000x when you are wrongfully convicted of her murder.

Today, Bronx Supreme Court Justice Steven Barrett vacated the 1991 murder conviction of Huwe Burton. Justice Barrett based his decision on findings by the Bronx District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) that detectives from the 47thprecinct had coerced Burton into falsely confessing to murdering his mother when he was just 16 years old.

As has been highlighted by the Netflix show Making a Murderer, false confessions can happen. Look at the statistics of other wrongfully convicted persons in cases of DNA exoneration wherein the Defendant was conclusively proven innocent, not just found”not guilty.” In 72% of those cases, there was an eyewitnesses mis-identification.  Craziest though: there was a false confession in 27% of them. In Burton’s case,

Burton’s conviction was based largely on a confession he made to three detectives—Frank Viggiano, Stanley Schiffman and Sevelie Jones—from the 47th Precinct who used psychologically coercive techniques that were standard practice at the time. The techniques included isolating Burton from his father, threatening him with additional criminal charges and, ultimately, offering leniency if he confessed to killing his mother. Sleep deprived and traumatized by his mother’s death, Burton provided a written and recorded statement that he’d accidentally stabbed his mother during an argument when she would not give him money to pay a debt to a drug dealer. He told detectives that he left the key to the family car on the floorboard after the murder and the drug dealer took it. The car was missing when her body was found. Burton immediately recanted his confession. . .

Over the course what is nearly 30 years since Burton was arrested, a substantial body of scientific and scholarly research has been conducted identifying dispositional and situational “risk factors” that can produce false confessions, including youth and bereavement (dispositional factors) and commonly used interrogation tactics that are psychologically coercive (situational factors). After taking a hard look at Burton’s confession during the joint re-investigation with the assistance of experts, the Bronx CIU recognized the false confession research was itself “newly discovered evidence” that, when applied to the facts of the Burton case, required a finding that Burton’s confession was false and unreliable, a product of a psychologically coercive interrogation techniques used by the detectives. Burton’s defense team believes this newly discovered evidence finding is unique and extremely important to the future litigation of false confession cases.

False confessions have a great power to taint all other evidence. It is easier for someone to cognitively understand why someone would commit suicide than understand why someone would falsely confess to a crime they did not commit.

In one research project though on false confessions:

We did a mock interrogation experiment in our lab here at FIU. With parent permission for all minors of course and all the appropriate ethical approvals we falsely accused teens and adults of cheating on a study task, an academic dishonesty offense that we told them was a serious as cheating in a class in reality. Participants had witnessed a peer cheat someone who was actually part of our research team and was allegedly on academic probation and we gave everyone a tough choice: you can lose your extra credit for participating in the study or accuse your peer who will probably be expelled because of his academic probation status. Of course in reality none of these consequences would have panned out and we fully debriefed all participants afterward but most teenagers (fifty-nine percent of them) sign the confession statement falsely taking responsibility for the cheating. Only three teams out of 74 or about four percent of them asked to talk to a parent when we accuse them of cheating despite the fact that for most of them their parent was literally sitting in the next room during the study.

P.S. “Only days after his mother was murdered, Huwe Burton wrote her eulogy. From jail. It was read at her funeral (he was not allowed to attend).”