Four sailors confessed and were convicted based on those confessions, but another man, whose DNA links him to the rape and murder, confessed to the crime without accomplices.
From NY Times:
[...] on Monday, 30 former agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation took up the cause of four sailors, known as the Norfolk Four, who were convicted in a 1997 rape and murder.
Arguing that DNA and forensic evidence points to a prison inmate who has confessed as the sole perpetrator of the crimes, they called on Gov. Tim Kaine to pardon the sailors.
“After careful review of the evidence we have arrived at one unequivocal conclusion: The Norfolk Four are innocent,” said Jay Cochran, a former assistant director of the F.B.I. and former special agent who served at the bureau for 27 years. “We believe a tragic mistake has occurred in the case of these four Navy men, and we are calling on Governor Kaine to grant them immediate pardons.”
This case is another reason why all investigators need to know that wrongful confessions can be coerced in situations where most people assume nobody could falsely confess.
This sort of injustice is what I kept thinking about as I was watching a TV show a few days ago on detecting lies through analyzing body language and vocal intonation. Lies were often tagged by body language or intonation that didn't fit the expert's expectations of what an honest person in that situation would look like or sound like.
This expectation mismatch can happen when someone is lying, but it can easily happen when someone is telling the truth in a situation that academic studies cannot ethically replicate.
One such situation where expectations can be potentionally out of sync with reality would be the recent interrogation of a 8-year-old boy after his father and a friend of his father were found shot to death. The county attorney's office has released 12 minutes of the boy's interrogation -- without an adult relative present -- prior to the boy's confession.
Investigators who think they can determine guilt by careful watching and listening or through tools such as polygraphs are likely to be quicker than other investigators to proceed with coercing a confession without doing the background work needed to find all available evidence. They are also likely to see the result of their coercive techniques as proof that their lie detection instincts are accurate. From there a thorough investigation which would be needed if there were no confession can seem like a waste of time.
In this article I noticed something which reminded me of what many "consent is consent" anti-feminists would call morning after regret.
The sailors initially confessed to the crime after being threatened with the death penalty if they did not cooperate. But they quickly recanted.
To be logically consistent, those who deny that rape victims can be coerced into complying when they are not giving genuine consent must deny that these men can be coerced into complying with the demand to confess when they are in fact innocent.
If investigators are expected to be ethical and only get non-coerced confessions then that standard must apply to everyone seeking to gain agreement. This standard isn't about coddling girls and women.
Coerced agreements are the reason for consumer protection laws which allows those who sign contracts to have time in which to nullify the contract.