SERIAL KILLER ON THE LOOSE: HOW COERCED CONFESSIONS INCARCERATED AN INTELLECTUALLY DISABLED MAN AND ALLOWED A SERIAL KILLER TO MURDER 17 AND RAPE 60
Jerry Townsend walked into an interrogation room in 1979 and before he left that room he had confessed to six separate murders. None of them were true. Jerry Townsend was intellectually disabled. He had an IQ of 60. It was common for him to parrot what other people said to him. This is a recipe for disaster in an interrogation room with investigators whose goal is to elicit a confession.
The real killer in this case was Eddie Lee Mosley. We know of 17 murders and 60 rapes that Eddie Lee Mosley committed. If it had not been for DNA evidence, Jerry Townsend would likely have never been exonerated. Eventually, the DNA evidence came to light and exonerated Jerry Townsend after 22 years in prison. However, it would be a mistake to call this case a success. Townsend did get out. But he lost 22 years of his life. And even more tragically, Eddie Lee Mosley continued to rape and murder while they errantly believed they had caught the killer in Jerry Townsend. Furthermore, an additional innocent man got wrongfully convicted for Eddie Mosley’s crimes, Frank Lee Smith was convicted for a rape and murder that Eddie Lee Mosley committed in 1985. You can read about that case in my article about Franke Lee Smith. If the investigation in 1979 had not stopped after interviewing Jerry Townsend, they may have actually found the right person in Eddie Lee Mosley. This would have prevented the wrongful conviction of Frank Lee Smith in 1985. It would have prevented the further rapes and murders Eddie Lee Mosley continued to be wrought on the south Florida community. But this did not happen. This is the price that is paid when you convict the wrong person. It’s not just about the years lost for that person. We as a society pay the price.
If you are falsely accused and were subject to police interrogation that elicited a confession, I’m not going to lie to you, you are in a tough spot. It is very difficult to overcome this. Most people have a hard time understanding how an innocent person could confess. But these same people who question this have never been through the ardors of a murder police interrogation. This issue is explored in the police interrogations episode of Last Week Tonight. You can challenge the admissibility of the confession based on the testimony being coerced. But the legal standards in place are very difficult to overcome. So, unless the police engaged in over the top conduct, even interrogations that most sociologists would call coercive, will not be deemed coercive enough by legal standards. Therefore, you are likely facing the difficult challenge of convincing the jury that the confession should not be believed. It’s a tough task. But hopefully, you have a skilled attorney that knows how to fight this issue.