Coerced False Confessions During Police Interrogations
The Prince George's County Scandal
In 1999, Donna Zinetti, 36, was found murdered in a wooded area not far from her apartment in Prince George's County, Maryland. When officers arrived at the scene, they realized that she had been brutally raped before she died. Although semen was collected at the crime scene, there was no real need to conduct a thorough analysis of it. After all, they claimed that Donna's husband, Keith Longtin, 45, confessed to the crime. Case closed — or so they thought.
In fact, Keith never confessed to the crime at all. He suggested that detectives "simply twisted his words" during a sleepless 38-hour-long marathon interrogation for a crime he never committed, April Witt reported in a 2001 Washington Post article. Nevertheless, Keith was charged with his wife's murder and was thrown into jail. His claims of having been framed by the police were never investigated.
Then, a little more than a month later, doubts began to surface concerning the case against Keith when two detectives from different sectors of the police department noticed similarities between Donna's case and a string of other rape cases in the area. Initially, the detectives' suspicions were scoffed, but DNA analysis linked another man, Antonio D. Oesby, to the area rapes, as well as Donna's murder. After 8 months in jail, Keith was finally exonerated. His was one of four allegedly coerced false confession cases in Prince George's County that the Washington Post investigated. What they found was disconcerting, to say the least.
When the four murder suspects were interrogated, three of them were denied their right to speak with a lawyer, all of them were threatened or intimidated during questioning that lasted for more than 11 hours, and each alleged confession was the only evidence proving their guilt, Witt said. All of the men were eventually exonerated for the crimes for which they were committed because their "confessions" were proved false by outside parties. They were just a handful of many cases involving complaints of police coercion by the department. Witt reported that some Prince George's lawyers, including former prosecutors, said interrogation-room abuse is the routine rather than the exception.
Since the exonerations, several similar cases have gone to court and have been thrown out because of coerced false confessions, most involving police brutality during extensive interrogations. As a result. The Prince George's County Police Department has come under intense scrutiny by the FBI. It is hoped that the use of video taped interrogations and interview notes will reduce the frequency of coerced false confessions in the future. Then more time can be spent searching for the real perpetrators instead of terrorizing the innocent.