In a show dedicated to false confessions, Oprah Winfrey asks the question what makes someone confess to a crime he did not do? By following the case of one man, Marty Tankleff, who did just that–admitted to murdering his parents at age 17 when he had not–the show sheds light on one of the most perplexing aspects of wrongful convictions. Another boy, Michael Crowe, was interrogated for 10 hours alone by police who lied to him about physical evidence found near his sister’s body after she had been stabbed while the family slept. At some point, Michael broke down and started to “tell a story.” Luckily, murder charges were dropped a year later when DNA from the crime scene was linked to a man suspected in a series of other crimes. Michael said that he was so isolated from his family that he began to believe that he had killed his sister, and that he continues to suffer from the effects of that event today, 11 years later.
False confessions not only traumatize an innocent person, they lead police away from finding the true perpetrator. This is part of the reason that the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, and all of the other 54 innocence projects worldwide, support the videotaping of confessions from start to finish.