I’ve posted here about the ongoing review of cases in the Brooklyn DA’s office, many of them involving confessions taken by one man, now-retired Detective Louis Scarcella. The DA’s office has said that it is reviewing all of cases in which confessions obtained by Scarcella played pivotal roles. Now comes news that in some of these cases, experts see a disturbing pattern: many of the confessions use very similar phrases at crucial points. The phrases “you got it right” or “I was there,” or both, recur in at least five of the confessions Scarcella obtained.
According to the Richard Leo, professor of law at the University of San Francisco and one of the foremost experts in the world on false confessions, “[i]t’s hard to imagine all five people used the same exact words…“It almost sounds like a template.”
In unrelated media interviews, Scarcella has uses these very words in a strikingly uncommon way, raising the question of whether the phrases that appear in the confessions came from the defendants, or from him. According to one article:
In an interview with The New York Post last month, [Detective Scarcella] said he still remembered Mr. Ranta’s confession from a quarter century earlier: “I said: ‘You come from 66th Street. I come from 66th Street. We’re both Italian. Why don’t you tell me the truth?’ So he says, ‘Yeah, you’re right. I was there.’ ”
And talking about a different case during an appearance on the “Dr. Phil” television program in 2007, where he discussed the tactics he used to get suspects to admit their misdeeds, Mr. Scarcella recalled a similar conversation with a suspect. “He says to me, ‘Louis, you were right. I was there, but he kicked me, and I shot him by accident.’ I said, ‘Don’t you feel better now?’ And he’s now doing 37 ½ years to life.”
The review of Scarcella’s cases will continue to unfold, and we need to know whether his knack for getting confessions out of people, some of whom have claimed they never confessed, was due to his uncanny abilities to talk people into truthfully implicating themselves, or whether something else — perhaps something illegal — was going on.