Most people ask themselves, “If he didn’t do it, then why did he say he did?” Before I went to law school, I had the same sentiment. However, that changed when I was confronted with an overwhelming amount of cases where people confessed to a murder they did not commit and were later found innocent by way of DNA evidence. Recently, a Chicago man was found innocent, with the assistance of DNA testing, of a 1994 murder that he confessed to committing. Again, one would naturally ask, “why would he confess to something he didn’t do?” The answer is wrongful police interrogation.
James Edwards is no saint. According to the Chicago Tribune, Edwards was Raised in New York City’s Harlem borough. His arrest record stretches to childhood. Early on, he joined the Five Percent Nation, a Nation of Islam offshoot, and took on another name by which he’s been known, Divine God Epps.
In 1974, he came to Chicago and met Cora Lee Young, 83, according to court records. Days later Young was found beaten to death, and Edwards, who had her blood on his clothes, was charged with murder, court records show. His lawyers raised an insanity defense, and psychiatrists testified that he was schizophrenic, while his mother testified the family doctor had said he seemed to be suffering schizophrenia at age 8, according to court records. He was convicted and imprisoned until 1991, according to court records.
In December 1994 Edwards was convicted of beating to death a Waukegan appliance storeowner. After initially denying responsibility for the killing, Edwards eventually signed a written confession purporting to be the killer.
After being taken into custody, Edwards was interrogated by two detectives. The interrogation lasted 24 hours. Edwards said the detectives beat him and led him to a secluded part of the Waukegan station, where they told him they could kill him and make it look like a suicide.
“My denials were followed by their fists,” he said.
Edwards, thinking he couldn’t be found guilty of crimes he didn’t commit, signed statements the officers wrote, he said, confessing to the murder and a string of local burglaries and robberies. In 2010, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered DNA testing Edwards sought on the blood. In May 2012, prosecutors announced charges against Hezekiah Whitfield, 43. Whitfield has an armed robbery conviction, and the blood matched him, Assistant State’s Attorney Stephen Scheller said. Whitfield awaits trial.
Sometimes it feels like I am beating a dead horse when I tell people that as soon as they feel like they are not free to voluntarily end police questioning that means they are in custody. As a result of being in custody, you are in a position to invoke your constitutional rights to silence and a qualified Illinois Defense Attorney. It is of the utmost important that you exercise these rights in a clear manner to law enforcement. You may believe that you are equipped with the skills necessary to “outlast” police interrogation, but you would be mistaken. The police have refined a multitude of techniques in order to gain a confession, truthful or false.