A Bronx, New York man, who was wrongly convicted of killing his mother, finally cleared his name after spending nearly 20 years behind bars and another 10 on parole. As in many other cases involving Black male suspects, detectives used interrogation techniques against him intended to extract a false confession.
On Thursday, a state judge vacated the murder conviction against Huwe Burton, now 49, and ruled that his confession was coerced, the New York Times reported.
This is just one example of many cases involving police detectives who use a range of illegal tactics to extract fabricated confessions–from brutality to false promises.
Burton was just 16 when he found his mother murdered after he came home one evening in 1989. He confessed two days later to killing her while high on crack. That confession came after detectives interrogated him for hours without a lawyer or adult relative present.
Shortly after that, he recanted his confession, which didn’t match evidence at the crime scene. However, a jury still convicted him. After serving almost two decades in prison, Burton was paroled in 2009.
Lawyers for the Innocence Project, an organization that works to win the exoneration of those wrongly convicted, and the Bronx district attorney’s office presented new evidence to the judge that helped to clear Burton.
“The injustice he endured is unimaginable—to be wrongly convicted of murdering his mother, whom he adored. Today, Mr. Burton will finally get some measure of justice,” said Innocence Project attorney Susan Friedman in a statement. “We hope this tragic case can serve as a learning moment about the value of new scientific research on false confessions and steps that can be taken to avoid dangerously coercive interrogation techniques.”
Unfortunately, Burton’s case is not a rare occurrence. For example, retired Chicago Police detective Kriston Kato had a reputation in the 1980s and 1990s as a cop who beat confessions out of suspects, according to the Washington Post. Lawyers for dozens of suspects who encountered Kato are trying to clear the names of their clients.
In many other cases, detectives use the fear of white juries tactic to convince Black suspects to confess, according to the Marshall Project. That method involves threatening that they would get a lighter sentence by confessing than if they received a guilty verdict from a white jury.
In Burton’s case, the police led him to believe that if he confessed to killing his mother they would not charge him with statutory rape for having had consensual sex with his 13-year-old girlfriend. They also told him that he would be taken to Family Court and his mother’s death treated as an accident.
“My mother was one of the strongest people I’ve ever known,” Burton said after the hearing on Thursday. “One of the things that she did was respect the law and respect law enforcement. But at the time of her death, she wasn’t respected by the law or law enforcement.”