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Who Would Make a False Confession?
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Who Would Make a False Confession?



This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Authorities in Boulder, Colorado are cautioning the public that much more work needs to be done before John Mark Karr can be linked to the murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey. Karr was arrested in Thailand and he publicly confessed to being involved in the 10-year-old murder at a press conference. But there are serious questions about his story, prompting some people to wonder whether Karr made a false confession.

Well, why might someone make up such a grisly confession? Here's an Explainer from Andy Bowers of the online magazine Slate.

Mr. ANDY BOWERS (Slate): For notoriety or because he'd become obsessed with the case. Psychologists who study false confessions divide them into voluntary and coerced admissions of guilt. Someone might make a voluntary false confession if he wanted to be famous. Several hundred people claim to have abducted the Lindbergh baby, for example. And more than 30 confessed to the Hollywood Black Dahlia murder in 1940s.

Just a few weeks ago, a prison inmate name Robert Charles Brown confessed to murdering 48 people. Police were instantly suspicious because this number just happens to put him in the company of the nation's most prolific serial murderer, the Green River Killer.

If John Mark Karr did lie to the police, it maybe because he became so immersed in the high profile case that he started to think he'd committed the crime. Reports say Karr had been working for several years on a book about JonBenet's murder and about child murders in general.

A similar obsession seems to have led crime novel buff Lavern Pavlinac to implicate herself and her boyfriend in an Oregon murder in 1990. Both were convicted of the crime but were released five years later when the so-called Happy Face Killer admitted to being the true culprit. Pavlinac later said she'd made the confession to escape an abusive relationship. Her boyfriend said he'd confessed to avoid getting the death penalty.

Experts say that false confessions are much more often coerced than voluntary. Innocent people, like Pavlinac's boyfriend, can admit guilt to avoid harsher punishment. Police can also push a suspect to question her own recollection of events or to create false memories. In general, young people with low IQs are considered the most vulnerable to this kind of false confession.

BRAND: Andy Bowers is a Slate senior editor. And that Explainer was compiled by Daniel Engber.

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