DNA evidence leads to the release of two North Carolina men who spent 30 years in jail based on coerced confessions.

Posted by Michael Zarrella | Sep 18, 2014 | 0 Comments

Recently, two men were released from prison in the State of North Carolina for crimes that neither had committed.  Each man served 30 years in prison before being released. A review of their criminal cases substantiates the fact that both men were detained by law enforcement and after hours of questioning finally gave coerced statements to police. Based on these coerced statements, with little to no other evidence against the two defendants, the State of North Carolina was able to obtain criminal convictions against each of them for rape and murder charges.   The  defendants thereafter spent the next 30 years of their lives in a North Carolina prison. If not for the defendant's new criminal defense attorneys requesting DNA evidence, these men would have spent an entire life time in jail, not to mention the one defendant who was spending his sentence on death row.
In one case, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission found that the DNA on a nearby cigarette came back to another man that was already serving a life sentence for  similar crimes.  These cases show the importance of having good judges, good police work and fair play in the criminal justice system.  A criminal defense attorney's job is to represent their client zealously.  While the police and prosecutor's job is to seek justice, too often police and prosecutors within our American justice system look at a case with blinders on.  Time and again the police and prosecution will find a suspect that they truly believe committed a crime, and focus solely on that person and not the other evidence that may point elsewhere.  As in the case in North Carolina, the police thought they had their men and completely ignored the facts surrounding a sex offender suspect that was later found to be the guilty party. Even today, the the former District Attorney who prosecuted the criminal case stated that the governor would be a fool to consider pardoning the men even though the judge in North Carolina vacated their sentences. 
Over and over DNA is providing proof that confessions obtained after hours of questioning with no lawyer present are completely unreliable.  The confessions are often coerced and at times add little value to a case.  More often then not, judges will let these confessions be heard by the jury at trial because the judge does not want to be perceived as weak on crime.  Too often in my career as a criminal defense attorney do I hear clients tell me that the police have threatened them if they do not confess and that the police threaten to charge the suspect's mother, wife or kids. Other times the suspects are told that if they do not confess the police will arrest their wife and have their kids taken away by DCYF.  How can these confessions obtained under these circumstances be deemed reliable?
The rules of evidence in criminal cases are there for specific reasons one of which is to protect defendants from unfair prosecutions.  When prosecutors and judges start to bend these rules for what they believe to be the greater good, the net cast will often scoop up many innocent people.  It is critically important in the criminal justice system to follow the law and the rules that safeguard defendants so that cases like this are less likely to happen.
My name is Michael J. Zarrella, Esq. and I have been practicing criminal defense for 20 years in the State of Rhode Island.  I have seen attorneys who do not have the proper criminal experience represent clients in a less than proficient manner.  If you have been arrested for a crime in Rhode Island please call me at 401-523-5271 or visit my websites at or

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