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By Ben Pesta
Book Review columns.
The Wrong Guys: Murder, False Confessions and The Norfolk Four
By Tom Wells and Richard A. Leo
The New Press (2008)
Reviewed by Ben Pesta
The conviction of the innocent is the most damning indictment of the American legal system. When an innocent defendant confesses, he seals his own fate. Jurors listen to no further evidence presented after the confession, and appellate courts are loath to disturb confession-based convictions.
And yet, the innocent confess all the time. “[F]alse confessions occur regularly in the United States and are among the leading causes of miscarriages of justice,” Tom Wells and Richard A. Leo write in The Wrong Guys: Murder, False Confessions and the Norfolk Four. According to the authors, “Some 15-20 percent of cases in which innocent prisoners have been exonerated by DNA evidence involved a false admission or confession.”
The Wrong Guys tells the story of a particularly egregious case, the 1997 rape-murder of a young sailor’s wife in Norfolk, Va. Police arrested D
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