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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 Damage to the Community from the Wrongful Conviction

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.

Takeaways for the Falsely Accused

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. Your average lawyer is not going to be able to successfully argue that the confession was coercive. It's an extreme challenge for even skilled criminal defense attorneys to do. But nothing is more important than either excluding or at least undermining the credibility of the coerced confession. Otherwise, study after study shows that jurors believe alleged confessions even in the face of contradictory evidence at an alarming rate (see Jailhouse Informants by Jeffrey Neuschatz). The backdrop of how impossible the courts have created the standard for excluding confessions for being coerced is that you'll likely need a lawyer who will be able to argue the issue to the jury because the judge won't throw it out. There is little more that is difficult in criminal law than going to trial when there is an alleged confession in the books. You'll want a skilled criminal defense attorney who can explore your options with you in a case like this.

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Peter Lindstrom, Esq.

Founder of Subzero Criminal Defense

I practice exclusively in the state of Minnesota. If you are falsely accused in Minnesota, contact me for a consultation. If you are falsely accused in another state or country, contact a qualified attorney in your jurisdiction. 

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