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The Problem of False Confession in America
By Richard A. Leo
In 1998 two young boys in Chicago – ages seven and eight – were charged
with murdering an eleven-year-old girl named Ryan Harris. She had been
badly beaten around the head, her underpants had been stuffed into her
mouth, and she appeared to have been sexually assaulted. After an
unrecorded interrogation, the two boys “confessed” to hitting Harris in
the head with a brick (and then stuffing leaves and grass in her nose)
in order to steal her bicycle. Largely because of the boys’ ages, the
case attracted national media attention. The country was horrified that
two prepubescent boys were capable of committing so savage a crime.
Although the evidence pointed to an adult sex crime, the police insisted
that the two boys were not too young to have done it, and that they
knew details that could only be known to the detectives or the
Months later, however, the Illinois State Crime Laboratory discovered
semen on Ryan Harris’ underpants – evidence that
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