Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A Good Confession, Unused

From The Chapel Hill Herald:
Good police work takes brains, takes risks and often takes a lot of time. All of these elements drove the case of what happened to Deborah Key.

Recently, I told Carrboro Police Chief Carolyn Hutchison that I thought the use of a fake documents that resulted in a murder confession from accused killer Andrew Dalzell was a great piece of police work. The relief and grief felt by the family of Deborah Key is something most of us can only imagine.

On Monday, Superior Court Judge Wade Barber ruled that the ruse used by the Carrboro cops was a violation of Dalzell’s rights. The lack of a Miranda warning means that the confession is inadmissible, Barber decided, because it was induced by “hope or fear.” Orange-Chatham District Attorney Carl Fox will determine what this means for the case against Dalzell, who (thankfully) remains in custody.

In a time when high speed chases are so often in the news as police run down someone who has committed a more minor crime – like stealing a car – it was refreshing to see that Carrboro was a place where police work was a bit more intellectual in its nature.

It’s regrettable that the confession is tossed, but awfully encouraging and important that the mystery of what happened to Deborah Key is now resolved. Dalzell’s legal dance might make it impossible to get that confession into evidence against him, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a trial and it doesn’t mean he won’t be convicted of Key’s murder – the murder he confessed to in the back of that police cruiser.

Murder, after all, is seldom a clean or well-planned business. People who kill other people to solve problems are not what you’d call “long-term thinkers.”

There is likely more evidence to be discovered that will tend to bring the truth to light. The detectives involved have an awfully good idea of what happened now. Presumably that makes the search for proof much easier.

While I don’t especially relish the idea of the police arresting me for one thing while trying to get me to confess to another, I know that if I’m under arrest, I’m in trouble. When you’re in trouble, it’s hard to avoid the temptation to talk your way out of it.

Suspects certainly are entitled to the Miranda warning, but I imagine that it seldom brings the epiphany of self-protection that the law seems to expect. If hearing that you-have-the-right-to-remain-silent caution really caused most people to suddenly clam up, then why did Dalzell sit down and write out his admission after signing an acknowledgement that he had received the warning?

Why didn’t he simply stare blankly ahead, say “oh, well, that’s different” and refuse to write or sign any confession at all? Why not insist on seeing a lawyer and refusing to answer questions?
The answer is the same as the explanation for his admission during his ride home. It’s the human mind, guilt and the need to unburden a soul. Yes, I think he probably is a troubled man who did a terrible thing several years ago, but who among us knows anything about the ordeal of living with that?

I expect that Dalzell was actually so relieved to have his chase end and genuinely concerned for his own family that he spilled the beans just to alleviate the intense pressure he must have felt.
Please don’t be confused by my speculation about Dalzell’s burden. If he did this murder, then he should bunk in with Mike Peterson and never be heard from again.

Occasionally one of my children has been in an emotional state due to a situation that seemed overwhelming at the time. Where I would normally back off and let him collect himself, I have sometimes “moved in” during these situations. Sometimes when you’re very upset and afraid, you can really get to the bottom things, just to relieve the pressure.

But of course, that’s an action of a caring Mom who is sitting on the edge of your bed, trying to help you through your adolescence. I can scarcely think of a greater position of trust than between a vulnerable child and his mother.

Between an accused killer and the police, however, there is no trust and there shouldn’t really be any expectation of it, should there? I mean, once I’m in the back of a cruiser with my handcuffs on, should I really be thinking that the officer in the front seat is looking to protect my freedom?

I offer again my admiration for the Carrboro police and their creative work in solving the mystery of what happened to Deborah Key. Perhaps in the future there will be more and better resources for them and their colleagues elsewhere to guide them on the use of such strategies without fear of legal reversal.

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