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And I'm Steve Inskeep. Yesterday, a Connecticut court ordered a new trial for Richard Lapointe. In 1989, he confessed that he stabbed, raped and killed his wife's 88-year-old grandmother. But in the years since, experts have come to better understand how sometime, people make false confessions; especially someone like Lapointe, with brain damage. NPR's Joseph Shapiro reports.
JOSEPH SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Twenty-three years ago, police in Manchester, Connecticut, asked Richard Lapointe to come to the station house. Then they took him to a small room, with charts on the walls. One chart listed types of evidence- fingerprints, DNA, pubic hair - each with a big, red check mark. It was all phony, just a trick to coax a confession.
Police are allowed to do that. Maybe someone else would have spotted the deception. After all, some detectives' names on the fake task force - Friday and Gannon - were right out of the TV show "Dragnet.' But Lapointe, a dishwasher at a nearby restaurant, was a simple man who had brain damage. And during a police interrogation that lasted more than nine hours, he confessed. "If the evidence shows I was there, and that I killed her," he said, "then I killed her, but I don't remember being there."
STEVE DRIZIN: It's one of the iconic cases in the annals of false confessions.
SHAPIRO: That's Steve Drizin, of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University Law School. He called on his cellphone just as he and a group of his students were about to enter a prison in Illinois, to visit a client. Drizin didn't represent Lapointe, but he's followed the case - and the ruling yesterday. The court said prosecutors had failed to turn over evidence that supported Lapointe's alibi - that he couldn't have been at the old woman's apartment, at the time of the murder.
In the past, prosecutors said that additional evidence would not have made a difference. Now, a spokesman for Connecticut's chief state's attorney said the office is reviewing the new court decision. Although that ruling didn't address the issue of false confession, Drizin says a lot's changed in 23 years. Back then, most experts figured no innocent person would confess to a serious crime they didn't commit. That's one reason police are allowed to trick someone. Steve Drizin.
DRIZIN: Obviously, the biggest development since Richard was arrested, is the impact that DNA evidence has had on the criminal justice system.
SHAPIRO: When the Innocence Project looked at all the cases of people exonerated by DNA evidence - and there've been 300 of them now - it found that in one out of four, a defendant had at one point given a self-incriminating statement, pled guilty or just confessed.
DRIZIN: Interrogations are very confrontational encounters with law enforcement and over time, a suspect will be worn down to such a place that he or she may confess, even to a murder.
SHAPIRO: That's particularly true for someone with an intellectual disability. Richard Lapointe was born with a malformation of the brain that affects memory, learning and thinking. Back in 1989, only one state required police interrogations to be tape-recorded. Today, some 20 states require it. Lapointe's current attorney, Paul Casteleiro - working with Centurion Ministries - says that would have made a difference.
PAUL CASTELEIRO: If the jury had heard a tape- recording of the interrogation, they would have heard exactly the techniques that were used by the police. They knew who they brought in, when they brought in Richard Lapointe. They knew he was a pliable person.
SHAPIRO: And Lapointe's attorney says that's the key to this case - because there was no clear physical evidence, just that confession.
Joseph Shapiro. NPR News.
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