Innocent people confess when they are psychologically tortured.
In 1997, four U.S. sailors were charged with a horrific crime. None of them was guilty, but they all confessed. A Frontline TV episode and a story in The New York Times Magazine explore how they were brainwashed into confessing, and how the justice system convicted these innocent men. The case became known as The Norfolk Four.
How could this have happened? Once the men confessed under interrogation, their confessions were considered iron-clad evidence that they had committed the crime and were guilty, despite any other evidence that pointed to their innocence. And instead of the authorities questioning whether the confessions were false, any physical evidence was twisted or ignored to fit the confessions. From The New York Times Magazine:
"Dick did not have Detective Ford or any other detective breathing down his neck when he testified for the state against his two Navy colleagues. When I asked him what it was like to sit on the witness stand, knowingly fabricating a story that could have resulted in their executions, Dick let out an audible sigh that seemed to say, "I know you’re not going to believe this," and, after an extended silence, replied, "It didn’t cross my mind that I was lying; I believed what I was saying was true." By the time he became a witness for the state, Dick explained, he had convinced himself he was guilty. Police officers, prosecutors and even his own lawyer insisted that he had committed the crime. "They messed up my mind and made me believe something that wasn’t true," he said."
The men have been released from prison, but are still required to register as sex offenders. In February 2011, the retired detective who interrogated the men, Robert Glenn Ford, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for extortion and lying to the FBI.
Watch the entire Frontline story – The Confessions (ninety minutes) at PBS>>
Read The New York Times Magazine story>>
Read more about this case at The Norfolk Four>>