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False Confession vs Investigative Logic

I read an article in The Fornesic Examiner, Volume 21 #1, Spring 2012 titled "False Confession 'vs' Investigative Logic". Having over 23 years of law enforcement experience with the majority of my time served as a Detective and Sergeant within the Major Crime Squad, along with being a trainer in interview and interrogation techniques and all things related to deception and confessions, I was very excited about the article. However, by the end of the article I was disturbed by several issues. I will start by saying that I am unfamiliar with the case discussed in the article and I am only going by the information presented in the magazine. Also, for this article to make sense, you should probably read the article that it is about. You can find it here: http://www.theforensicexaminer.com/

First off, the article stated that it will address the issue of a voluntary false confession. It is very important to make a distinction between a confession and an admission. According to the information presented in the article, Mr. Z did not confess to the crime, he merely admitted to killing his wife but claims that he has no memory of doing it. He did not “confess” and this should not be labeled as a “false confession”.

The article commented how Mr. Z remembered events of that day before and after the murder of his wife, but nothing about the murder itself, but admitted that he killed her. This is consistent with Crime Related Amnesia, where the defendant claims a loss of memory about the crime they committed. According to the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, crime-related amnesia is not uncommon; in fact the journal cited numerous studies which determined that 30% to 40% of people who committed violent crimes claimed crime-related amnesia.

Also, the Journal of Law and Psychiatry stated that most cases of crime-related amnesia are a form of malingering, and that often the offenders who claim amnesia are the ones themselves who informed the police about their crime. This certainly is consistent with the information provided in the article about this particular murder.

The assumption of the injuries being consistent with a younger offender lacks substance, because the weapon used was a common hammer, not a 20 pound sledge hammer or some heavy object. Standard hammers are not heavy and they are used to amplify the force so it does not take a lot of force to cause serious injury or death. This would not preclude Mr. Z from swinging a hammer that caused the death of his wife. Further evidence of the use of a hammer and the injuries is cited below.

Regarding the section on crime analysis, Mr. Z stated he and his wife went shopping and had dinner at home and then watched television with his wife. He then went upstairs to bed for about an hour, then went back down stairs and watched more television with his wife, then he went back upstairs to bed again. He then came downstairs after 2:00am and found his wife dead. He sat down and waited for about an hour before calling the police, and said he checked the doors and found them locked, opened the garage door and waited for the police to arrive. This activity is not consistent with the picture of the frail man the article tried to paint by saying in his weakened condition “It defies logic and common sense that Mr. Z have to get up out of bed, walk down a flight of stairs, go to the garage and get the hammer, attack his wife, clean and put the hammer back, and go upstairs.” Clearly, the activity and movement Mr. Z admits to doing on the evening of the murder is just as extensive as the example provided in an attempt to negate that he had the stamina to do that.

That brings the murder weapon into question. The article sated that a hammer is an unusual weapon for committing a murder, and I agree. However, the article also stated that a hammer “is unwieldy in the hands of someone unaccustomed to using it”. Most people know how to use a hammer and I am sure Mr. Z did also. The article also stated using a hammer and “attempting to strike someone who is moving, defending themselves, and fighting back may prove difficult because the actual lethal anatomical target area of the hammer is so small.” The article continued a few sentences and said that in this particular case the “offender likely blitz attacked her from behind and caught her unaware”. This negates the previous comment that using a hammer would be difficult with a moving, fighting, defending victim. The victim in this case was surprised and struck from behind then fell to the ground in and unconscious or semi-conscious state and was struck several more times on the ground, which is consistent with the described physical evidence and blood spatter. Again, the argument made in the article is that using a hammer would require an offender with strength and dexterity; I disagree, because again, the article also stated the offender likely blitzed attacked her from behind, which is a simple strike, knocking her down in an unconscious or semi-conscious state, making the repeated assault with a hammer simple.

Additional points about the murder weapon are that it was taken from the garage, used in the murder, washed off and placed back neatly in the garage where it belonged. The hypothesis in this article is that the offender was a younger, inexperienced male, who used a weapon of opportunity from the scene (hammer) and unexpectedly encountered the victim. The article is about “investigative logic”, but this point clearly defies logic. Why would a young, inexperienced offender who unexpectedly encountered the victim, causing him to beat her to death, and then take the time to wash off the hammer and place it neatly back where he got it from in its proper place? In his surprise, is it not more logical that he would just quickly flee the residence? If he was inexperienced, would he even think of washing off evidence? Most likely he would not. However, someone who owns the hammer and other tools and has used and taken care of them through the years would be more inclined to wash it and place it back where it belonged, even if that is done out of habit, which of course would include Mr. Z.

The article also stated “a safe, whose combination was known only by Mrs. Z, and which typically contained cash, was found opened and empty after the police completed their investigation.”For this to have any value to the investigation, it is important to know the condition of the safe when police were on the scene. Was the safe locked and secure at that time, or was it open and empty when police were on the scene? This is important to know because if it was secure at the time police were there, that may lend to someone after the fact, maybe someone in their family, removing contents of the safe. Also, the article said the safe “typically contained cash” but does not say that it actually did contain cash, or that cash was even taken from the safe. It is an assumption and unclear in the article.

Someone took out a credit card in the name of Mr. Z about a week after he was in jail. Keeping all option open, it is possible that he was simply a victim of identity theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission, they estimate about 9 million cases of identity theft each year, which is unfortunately a common crime. Another possibility is that with the publicity of the death of Mrs. Z and the arrest of Mr. Z, scammers thought it to be an easy mark to take advantage of and less likely to be found out.

Other evidence was that there were keys in a storage closet. According to Mr. Z, he checked and the doors of the house were all locked, but the article makes the argument that there were keys hanging in a storage closet near the garage and that an offender could have went into the storage closet, found the keys, used them to enter the door of the garage and grab the hammer on the way. According to the article, there were four keys, to four separate doors in the house, so the offender would first have to take the time to look for keys and then have to take the time to figure out which key went to which door, and then, after killing the victim with the hammer, take the time to clean the hammer and place it back where it belongs, and also take the time to place the keys back where they belong as well and to make sure he re-locked the doors. This defies logic; especially with the hypothesis of a younger, inexperienced offender who was surprised by the victim, that the article tries to say was likely to commit this murder.

Lastly, Mr. Z admitted that he killed his wife but claims he does not recall any details as stated above. This is consistent with crime-related amnesia, which is often a form of malingering, during which it is frequent that offenders who claim amnesia are the ones themselves who informed the police about their crime, which Mr. Z in fact did. The article stated he reportedly discovered her body with severe trauma but did not call the police for about an hour. Why the delay? Wouldn't someone who just found their wife af many years injured immediately call the police or ambulance for help? Instead, he sat down, waited about an hour, took off his t-shirt and underwear sometime around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and put them in the washer. Clearly this is consistent with an attempt to get rid of evidence, and the police still found blood spatter on his t-shirt.  

Also, the legal outcome was that Mr. Z plead under the Alford Doctrine agreeing that there was enough evidence for a jury to find him guilty, but he did not admit guilt. The court also found that the crime was committed with “extreme emotional disturbance for which there is a reasonable excuse”, and later under a subsequent psychological evaluation Mr. Z, he was found not guilty by reason of "lack of criminal responsibility". That is the same as “not guilty by reason of insanity” which means they actually committed the crime, but due to mental defect at the time of the crime, they are deemed not culpable. This means that Mr. Z, and not a young, strong, stranger as is the hypothesis of the article, killed Mrs. Z.

With the title of the article being “False Confessions ‘vs’ Investigative Logic” I was very surprised to find that it had nothing to do with “false confessions” since Mr. Z did not confess, let alone falsely confess, and I was just as surprised about the lack of “investigative logic” within the article.

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