The Confession in the “Baby Hope” Case: Not Recording Leads to Questions

Posted: October 28, 2013 in False Confessions
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

In mid October, police in New York City announced that they had solved the mystery of the “Baby Hope” case:  at last, they had the killer of a four-year-old child whose body had been found in 1991, 22 years ago.  And the accused killer, Conrado Juarez, had confessed.

Days later, Juarez  recanted the key part of his confession.  He said that under intense pressure by police during a long interrogation, he had lied:  he had not killed the child.  He had only helped his sister dispose of the body at her request.  He said that he had lied about killing the little girl because  “after a while and after so much pressure [from police], I accepted it and said what they wanted,”

The accused may have been telling the truth when he said he killed the victim, or when he said that he actually didn’t.  I certainly don’t know the answer to that.  But one thing that would help to resolve the question would be a video and audio recording of the entire interrogation, from start to finish.  A judge or jury could then look at the entire thing and decide whether the accused was coerced or not.  And over a year ago, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly announced that, after a long pilot project, the NYPD would begin recording all interrogations in homicide, felony assault, and sexual assault cases.

But in this case, that was not done.  Instead, a recording of only the confession itself — a statement of guilt by Juarez at the end of the process — was made.  No recording was made of the questioning that lead up to it.  So we have no record of how police got to the point of getting the admission of guilt.  And that leaves the confession in dispute: the accused will argue that he was coerced, and the police will say they did nothing to coerce him.  But there will be no recording for a judge or jury to see.

Why did this happen?  According to the NYPD spokesman quoted in media reports, “only 28 detective squads — there are more than 76 across the city — have an interview room set up with recording equipment.”  The interrogation did not take place in one of those 28 squads.  Getting the equipment into all of those police facilities just takes time, and so far, the Department remains a long way from completely implementing Commissioner Kelly’s order.  (It is worth noting that the detectives in the Baby Hope case did not take the suspect to one of the buildings that already has the equipment  necessary to record.)

Or maybe it’s something else else.  According to Michael Palladino, the head of the NYPD’s detectives union, it’s better if interrogations don’t get recorded.  “There are certain tricks of the trade, I should say, that I think should not play out in front of the jury.”   But the cost of hiding these “tricks” is that we now have uncertainty in the Baby Hope case.  And, after so many cases of wrongful convictions including false confessions — they show up in 25 percent of all DNA-based exonerations — there is a loss of public confidence.

Here’s hoping that things move faster as the NYPD transitions to the recording of confessions.  Assuming that they have the real killer of Baby Hope, we all want the guy off the street.  We don’t need uncertainty introduced because there’s resistance to recording.

  1. L. Richardson says:

    For the New York Detectives to not take what would appear to be on the surface a “Double Felony Suspect” with possible implications of Impending Federal Charges to one of the 28 equipped squads for interrogation is in the least questionable and at most gross negligence. Especially since “over a year ago, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly announced that, after a long pilot project, the NYPD would begin recording all interrogations in homicide, felony assault, and sexual assault cases”. As for Juarez I have no doubt he “recanted” his confession after talking to his court appointed attorney who likely informed him, his confession would land in a 9 x 9 jail for the rest of his life. With that being said, Juarez could still be tried and convicted as an Accessory to Murder After the Fact.

  2. cpseidman says:

    In response to replies above, we will never know if the suspect was persuaded or coerced because the police did not record the entire interrogation. As a former DA in Kings County, NY our office always sent out an Assistant to video record the interrogation and confession in major cases. What if the judge determines that because the police did not record the entire interrogation as required in the police sop the statement may not be used as evidence in the trial. The case then falls apart. If you remember the young men convicted of assaulting the victim in Central Park years ago were interrogated by an Assistant DA on video tape. They confessed but in fact they were eventually released from prison because it was determined that they did not commit the crime. Have you thought about why the police did not record the entire confession? A recorded confession is the best evidence the police and DA have unless something improper was done during the part of the interrogation which was not recorded. If the police were able to record “just the confession” they certainly could have recorded the entire interrogation.

  3. ian says:

    ‘Tricks of the trade’! We’re in the 21st century for goodness sake. ‘Its better if interrogators are not recorded’ ! I’ll bet it is! The old ‘Reid’ chestnut, coercion and deceit? ALL such interviews should, at least, be audio recorded, preferably visually as well. Insufficient rooms kitted out? Nonsense, either use portable kit or a room that is as part of the arrest and interview strategy

  4. Robert Rios says:

    Is persuasion coercion?

  5. Robert Rios says:

    Why is it that everytime someone recants their confession or in this case part of their confession, it’s called a “False Confession”? also according to the suspect he was only coerced when it came to the killing. The word coercion is in the eye of the beholder. If I persuade someone to tell the truth, I can fully expect the defense attorney to call my efforts “Coercion” no matter how well it was done. It’s not that coercion was used, it’s because it’s the defense attorney’s JOB to try to discredit my efforts. He cannot say I did a wonderful job.

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