In a typical cloak and dagger drama, the ultimate coupe for a police officer is to capture a confession on tape in an interrogation or on an undercover wire. Haha! Now you've got the bad guys right where you want them. Off they go to prison, and justice is served. End of story. The average person would believe this to be a critical and effective part of our justice system. Once you read "Innocent Until Interrogated" however, you'll never quite be able to forget the chilling truth.
On August 10, 1991, a cook walked into a Buddhist temple outside of Tuscon AZ where she worked and discovered all nine of its monks slain, with gunshot wounds to the head. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office launched one of their biggest manhunts in history. Despite their discovery of the actual murder weapon (which was forgotten for a period of time in evidence storage somewhere) they chose to focus all of their efforts on the ramblings of a mentally disturbed man looking for some attention. Spewing names of his friends and neighbors as accomplices, he admitted to the crime, with the story getting bigger and more inconsistent as time passed. Four of the named men were taken into custody and interrogated under extreme duress, and despite their protestations of innocence, were eventually bullied into confessing. Although no hard evidence was ever collected to substantiate their guilt, and some of their confessions were recanted after a good night's sleep, they were incarcerated for over a year.
Let's turn back to that murder weapon now. Months after the apprehension of the "Tuscon Four", ballistics tests showed that the forgotten rifle already in the Sheriff's Office possession was one of the guns used in the slayings, and pointed towards two teenage boys. These boys were also brought in for questioning, and were similarly beaten down and stressed into a confession. One of them, in wrangling a plea bargain to escape the death penalty, also confesses to killing a young woman after the Buddhist slayings. A murder that had since been incorrectly pinned on an unstable war veteran.
I'll let all that information sink in for a minute.
What we have here is a big. hot. mess.
Sorry to put you through all that detail, but the case was incredibly complicated. And to understand all the ways legal rights were ignored, all the tragedies that occurred as a result of this fiasco, and all the collateral damage left in the wake, I felt like I needed to go there.
It seems inconceivable that innocent men would admit to murder, but under the right circumstances (police officers with the tunnel vision to solve the murder at any price, the application of extreme duress, and the mental instability, low self-esteem and low education of a suspect) a person will confess to anything in order to be left alone. I almost could not get through the section where these four men were being interrogated. It was PAINFUL. It was brain-numbing, repetitive, brutal, and shocking.
It begs the question - how often this situation does occur each year? This was only one example! In "Innocent Until Interrogated", after you have read what I would consider a thorough accounting of the evidence and testimonies, you have a pretty good idea of who did the shooting, and who went along for the ride. But because of the gross mishandling of the case, the truth is hidden behind plea bargains, egos, politics, and red tape.
And truth wasn't the only casualty. The Tuscon Four had their lives and reputations literally ruined, and lost over a year in prison. They were all eventually compensated for their troubles, but I suspect they will never be quite the same. And what about the poor young woman that was murdered after the Buddhist slayings, and the man incorrectly arrested for that crime? These events never would have occurred had proper procedure had been followed. For those who believe in the system like me, it is enough to make you sick.
The writing itself felt a bit dry at times. True crime details can be tedious, and it takes a deft hand to make it flow for the layperson. In fact, it took me about three days to read 30 pages, but once I was able to sit down and concentrate, I moved through the book fairly quickly. Crunch through the facts, though, and you will find yourself more than a little unsettled at how easily an innocent person can find themselves on the wrong side of the law. It reminded me of my recent reading of "Monster of Florence", and I wanted to add Arizona to my list of places to try not to screw up or be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Thanks to Holly Schaffer at the University of Arizona Press, I have one copy of "Innocent Until Interrogated" to give away. Simply indicate if you are interested in the comments with an e-mail address, and I will choose a random winner on October 8th. I'd also like to thank Jen @ Devourer of Books, who chose my name for the giveaway of this book, and Holly for sending it to me!
3.5 out of 5 stars