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Sheriff-Ordered Analysis Finds “Unguided Missile” Investigation Led to Wrongful Arrest of Father in Daughter’s Death

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Early in the morning of June 6, 2004, three-year-old Riley Fox was abducted from her home in Wilmington, IL, sexually assaulted, and drowned in a nearby creek. Her father, Kevin, ‘confessed’ to the crime under police coercion and spent eight months in prison before DNA evidence exonerated him.

This DNA linked another man to the crime: Scott Wayne Eby, who’d been accused of several burglaries in the area and was imprisoned in 2005 for raping his stepsister. Eby’s shoes had even been found at the scene of the crime, but this evidence was overlooked. Prosecutors effectively ignored the idea that a stranger could have committed the crime, and Eby was not identified as a suspect until the FBI were called in to re-investigate in 2009.

Wanting to understand how his officers got an investigation so wrong, Will County Sheriff Paul Kaupas hired an independent national security firm, Andrews International, to investigate their investigation. The head of the team who prepared the report, John Timoney, is a former Police Commissioner of Philadelphia. The report attempts to find out how an innocent man could have confessed to murdering his child, and why, in the face of strong evidence, the real killer was not caught until the FBI got involved five years later.

The full report is available online here via a Freedom of Information Act request from the Chicago Tribune.

First, most people probably wonder why someone would confess to a crime he didn’t commit. But false confessions are more common than they’d appear to be. The report states:

The videotaped Fox confession is, in fact, strikingly similar to other false confession cases. It appears that the investigators, in the course of interrogating Kevin, unwittingly supplied him with the details of the crime. This happens in most false confessions. The investigators go over the ground again and again as they are interrogating the suspect, and the suspect, in essence, memorizes his part. He learns what details are important to investigators and when he decides, for whatever reason, to falsely confess, he parrots back these details, which the investigators take as confirmation that he is, in fact, guilty.

False confessions are a common enough occurrence that the Andrews report offers suggestions on how to avoid this: namely, record the entire interrogation and not just the confession in order to go back and see whether investigators have been providing narratives to the suspect.

Full details about this topic and several other issues that complicated the Fox case can be found in the full report.

What the Fox family has undergone can’t be undone, of course. But Will County has done what we think should be done when the justice system goes wrong: they’ve conducted an independent analysis to figure out why things happened the way they did and how best to reform the system so that other families can be spared the suffering that the Fox family had to undergo.

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