Anatomy of a Confession

Anatomy of a Confession: The Debra Milke Case by Gary L. Stuart

This American Bar Association publication is written for lawyers rather than a general audience, with copious detail about every step of the tortuous legal process involved in passing a death sentence on a woman accused of conspiring to murder her son, and then getting the sentence reversed on the basis of a fabricated confession (or, more precisely, the prosecution’s withholding of evidence of the officer’s clear pattern of misconduct from the defense and the jury).

This is a bracing read in that it portrays just how difficult it is to reverse a death sentence based on a pretty obviously false confession, but it doesn’t touch on the more common legal problem of coerced confessions. Instead, this is a rare case of a police officer fabricating a confession out of whole cloth and somehow getting that accepted by a judge and jury despite his failure to document it in the usual fashion, or at all really, aside from in his own testimony. (In this instance, after Debra Milke’s roommate confessed that he had killed her son Christopher and left him in the desert, a police detective claimed that Milke had confessed to contracting the murder, after a 30-minute one-on-one interview which he failed to record. The officer did not have a confession written up for her to sign after the interview, as is SOP in homicide investigations, and claimed to have discarded his notes from the interview also).

The author displays a distinct lack of curiosity about why Christopher Milke was murdered, if not at his mother’s behest, so this is not a great read for a true crime fan.

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