With the Carter case, Dennis Smith and Gary Rogers not only had an autopsy, hair samples, and "suspicious" polygraph exams but also were confident they had their killer.Ron Williamson was away for a spell doing time, but he would be back. They'd nail him sooner or later.
With Haraway, though, they had nothing-no body, no witnesses, not a single solid clue. The sketches by the police artist could realistically fit half the young men in Ada. The cops were due for a break.
It came out of nowhere early in October 1984, when a man named Jeff Miller walked into the Ada Police Department and asked to speak to Detective Dennis Smith. He said he had information about the Haraway case.
Miller was a local boy with no criminal record, but the police knew him vaguely as one of the many restless young people in the town who kept late hours and moved from job to job, usually in factories. Miller pulled up a chair and proceeded to tell his story. The night Denice Haraway disappeared, there had been a party near the Blue River, at a spot some twenty-five miles south of Ada. Jeff Miller had not actually been at the party, but he knew two women who were there. These two women-and he gave Smith their names-later told him that Tommy Ward was there, and that at some point early in the party there was a shortage of alcohol. Ward, who did not own a vehicle, volunteered to go get some beer, and he borrowed a pickup truck from one Janette Roberts. Ward left by himself in the truck, was gone for a few hours, and when he returned without the beer, he was distraught and crying. When asked why he was crying, he said he'd done something terrible. What? everyone at the party wanted to know. Well, for some reason he had driven all the way back to Ada, passing many beer stores along the way, and had found himself at McAnally's out east of town, where he snatched the young female clerk, raped her, killed her, disposed of her body, and now he felt awful about it.
Confessing all this to a random group of hard drinkers and dope smokers seemed like the logical thing to do.
Miller offered no clue as to why the two women would tell him and not the police, nor did he suggest any reason why they had waited five months.
As absurd as the story was, Dennis Smith quickly pursued it. He tried to find the two women, but they had already moved away from Ada. (When he finally tracked them down a month later, they denied being at the party, denied seeing Tommy Ward there or at any other party, denied ever hearing a story about a young female store clerk getting kidnapped and killed, or any other young female for that matter, and denied everything Jeff Miller had included in his tale.)
Dennis Smith located Janette Roberts. She was living in Norman, seventy miles away, with her husband, Mike Roberts. On October 12, Smith and Detective Mike Baskin drove to Norman and dropped in unannounced on Janette. They asked her to follow them down to the police station for a few questions, which she reluctantly did. During the interview, Janette admitted that she, Mike, Tommy Ward, and Karl Fontenot, among many others, had often partied down by the Blue River, but she was almost positive they had not done so on the Saturday night the Haraway girl disappeared. She often loaned Tommy Ward her pickup, but he had never left with it from a party at the river (or any other place), nor had she ever seen him crying and upset, nor had she ever heard him blubbering about raping and murdering a young woman. No, sir, that had never happened. She was quite certain.
The detectives were pleasantly surprised to learn that Tommy Ward was living with the Robertses and working with Mike. The two men were employed by a siding contractor and putting in long hours, usually from sunrise to dark. Smith and Baskin decided to stay in Norman until Ward came home from work, then ask him some questions.
Tommy and Mike stopped for a six-pack on the way home, and the beer drinking was one reason not to go chat with the cops. More important, Tommy just didn't like them. He was reluctant to go to the police station in Norman. The Ada cops had quizzed him about the murder months earlier, and he thought the matter was closed. One reason he'd left Ada was because so many people commented on how much he looked like one of the suspects in the police composites, and he was tired of it. He'd looked at the drawing many times and could see no resemblance. It was just another sketch, drawn by a police artist who'd never seen the suspect and never would, then broadcast to a community quite anxious to link the face to someone living in Ada. Everybody wanted to help the police solve the crime. It was a small town. The disappearance was big news. At one time or another, everybody Tommy knew had ventured a guess as to the likely identities of the suspects.
Tommy had been through several run-ins with the Ada police over the years, nothing serious or violent, but they knew him and he knew them, and Tommy preferred to avoid Smith and Rogers if at all possible.
In Janette's opinion, if Tommy had nothing to hide, then it was safe to go to the police station and chat with Dennis Smith and Mike Baskin. Tommy had nothing to do with the Haraway girl, but he didn't trust the police. After wrestling with the issue for an hour, he asked Mike to drive him to the Norman Police Department.
Smith and Baskin took him downstairs to a room with video equipment and explained that they wanted to make a tape of the interview. Tommy was nervous, but agreed. The machine was turned on, and they read him his Miranda rights, and he signed the waiver. The detectives began politely enough; it was just another routine interview, nothing important. They asked Tommy if he remembered the last interview, five months earlier. Of course he did. Had he told them the truth then? Yes. Was he telling the truth now? Yes.
Within minutes Smith and Baskin, going back and forth with the questions, confused Tommy with the days of the week back in April. On the day Denice Haraway disappeared, Tommy had worked on the plumbing in his mother's home, then showered and gone to a party at the Robertses' home in Ada. He'd left at four in the morning and walked home. Five months earlier he'd told the cops this had happened the day before the disappearance. "I just got my days mixed up," he tried to explain, but the cops could not be convinced.
The detectives' replies were, "When did you realize you hadn't told us the truth?" and "Are you telling us the truth now?" and "You're getting yourself into more serious trouble."
The tone became harsh and accusatory. Smith and Baskin lied and claimed to have several witnesses who would testify that Tommy was at a party by the Blue River that Saturday night and had borrowed a pickup truck and left. Wrong day, Tommy said, sticking to his version. He'd gone fishing on Friday, partied at the Robertses' on Saturday, and gone to a party at the river on Sunday. Why were the cops lying? Tommy asked himself. He knew the truth. The lying continued. "Isn't it true you were going to rob McAnally's? We've got people who are going to testify to that."
Tommy shook his head and held firm, but he was deeply troubled. If the police were willing to lie so casually, what else might they do?
Dennis Smith then pulled out a large photograph of Denice Haraway and held it close to Tommy's face. "Do you know that girl?"
"I don't know her. I've seen her." "Did you kill that girl?"
"No, I didn't. I wouldn't take nobody's life from them." "Who did kill her?"
"I don't know."
Smith continued to hold the photo while asking if she was a pretty girl. "Her family would like to bury her. They'd like to know where she is so they could bury her." "I don't know where she's at," Tommy said, staring at the photo and wondering why he was being accused. "Would you tell me where she's at so her family could bury her?"
"I don't know."
"Use your imagination," Smith said. "Two guys took her, got her in a pickup, took her away. What do you think they did with the body?"
"Use your imagination. What do you think?"
"She could be alive for all I know, for all you know, for all anyone knows."
Smith continued to hold up the photo as he asked questions. Every answer by Tommy was immediately disregarded, treated as if it weren't true or weren't heard by the detectives. They asked him repeatedly if he thought she was a pretty girl. Did he think she screamed during the attack? Don't you think her family should be able to bury her? "Tommy, have you prayed about this?" Smith asked.
He finally put the photo aside and asked Tommy about his mental health, about the composite sketches, about his educational background. Then he picked up the photo again, thrust it near Tommy's face, and started over with questions about killing the girl, burying the body, and wasn't she a pretty girl?
Mike Baskin attempted a tearjerker when he talked about Denice's family's ordeal: "All it would take to end their suffering would be to tell where she's at." Tommy agreed, but said he had no idea where the girl was. The machine was finally turned off. The interview lasted an hour and forty-five minutes, and Tommy Ward never wavered from his original statement-he knew nothing about the disappearance of Denice Haraway. He was quite rattled by the meeting, but agreed to take a lie detector test in a few days.
The Robertses lived only a few blocks from the Norman police station, and Tommy decided to walk to their home. The fresh air felt good, but he was angry at being treated so harshly by the cops. They had accused him of killing the girl. They had lied repeatedly to try to trick him.
Driving back to Ada, Smith and Baskin were convinced they had found their man. Tommy Ward looked like the sketch of one of the strange-acting boys who'd stopped by JP's store that Saturday night. He'd changed his story about where he was on the night Denice vanished. And he seemed nervous during the interview they had just completed.
At first, Tommy was relieved that he would be taking a polygraph exam. He would tell the truth, the test would prove it, and the cops would finally stop hassling him. Then he began having nightmares about the murder; the accusations by the police; the comments about his resemblance to the man in the sketch; the pretty face of Denice Haraway and her family's anguish. Why was he being accused?
The police believed he was guilty. They wanted him to be guilty! Why should he trust them with a lie detector exam? Should he talk to a lawyer?
He called his mother and told her he was scared of the police and the polygraph. "I'm afraid they'll make me say something I'm not supposed to say," he told her. Tell the truth, she advised him, and everything will be fine.
Thursday morning, October 18, Mike Roberts drove Tommy to the OSBI offices in Oklahoma City, twenty minutes away. The exam was to take about an hour. Mike would wait in the parking lot, then the two would drive to work. Their boss had given them a couple of hours off.
As Mike Roberts watched Tommy enter the building, he could not imagine that the boy was taking his last steps in the free world. The rest of his life would be behind prison walls.
Dennis Smith met Tommy with a big smile and a warm handshake, then put him in an office where he waited, alone, for half an hour-a favorite police trick to make the suspect even more nervous. At 10:30, he was led to another room, and waiting there was Agent Rusty Feather-stone and his trusty polygraph.
Smith disappeared. Featherstone explained how the machine worked, or how it was supposed to work, as he strapped Tommy in and hooked up the electrodes. By the time the questions started, Tommy was already sweating. The first questions were easy- family, education, employment-everybody knew the truth and the machine complied. This could be a cakewalk, Tommy started thinking.
At 11:05, Featherstone read Tommy his Miranda rights and began probing into the Haraway matter. For two and a half hours of tortuous questioning, Tommy gamely stuck to the truth-he knew nothing about the Denice Haraway matter. Without a single break, the exam lasted until 1:30, when Featherstone unplugged everything and left the room. Tommy was relieved, even elated because the ordeal was finally over. He had aced the test; finally the cops would leave him alone. Featherstone was back in five minutes, poring over the graph paper, studying the results. He asked Tommy what he thought. Tommy said he knew he'd passed the exam, the matter was over, and he really needed to get to work.
Not so fast, Featherstone said. You flunked it.
Tommy was incredulous, but Featherstone said it was obvious he was lying and clear that he was involved in the Haraway kidnapping. Would he like to talk about it?
Talk about what!
The polygraph doesn't lie, Featherstone said, pointing to the results right there on the paper. You know something about the murder, he said repeatedly. Things would go much smoother for Tommy if he came clean, talked about what happened, told the truth. Featherstone, the nice cop, was anxious to help Tommy, but if Tommy refused his kindness, then he would be forced to hand him over to Smith and Rogers, the nasty cops, who were waiting, ready to pounce.
Let's talk about it, Featherstone urged him.
There's nothing to talk about, Tommy insisted. He said again and again that the polygraph was rigged or something because he was telling the truth, but Featherstone wasn't buying it.
Tommy admitted to being nervous before the exam, and anxious while it was under way because he was late for work. He also admitted that the interview six days earlier with Smith and Rogers had upset him and caused him to have a dream. What kind of dream? Featherstone wanted to know.
Tommy described his dream: He was at a keg party, then he was sitting in a pickup truck with two other men and a girl, out by the old power plant near Ada where he grew up. One of the men tried to kiss the girl, she refused, and Tommy told the man to leave her alone. Then he said he wanted to go home. "You're already home," one of the men said. Tommy looked through his window, and he was suddenly at home. Just before he woke up, he was standing at a sink, trying in vain to wash a black liquid off his hands. The girl was not identified; neither were the two men.
That dream doesn't make sense, Featherstone said. Most dreams don't, Tommy retorted. Featherstone remained calm but continued to press Tommy to come clean, tell him everything about the crime, and, especially, tell him where the body was. And he threatened again to turn Tommy over to those "two cops" waiting in the next room, as if a lengthy torture session could be in the works.
Tommy was stunned and confused and very frightened. When he refused to confess to Featherstone, the nice cop turned him over to Smith and Rogers, who were already angry and seemed ready to throw punches.
Featherstone stayed in the room, and as soon as the door closed, Smith lunged at Tommy, yelling, "You, Karl Fontenot, and Odell Titsworth grabbed that girl, took her out to the power plant, raped and killed her, didn't you?"
No, Tommy said, trying to think clearly and not panic.
Talk to us, you little lying sonofabitch, Smith growled. You just flunked the polygraph, we know you're lying, and we know you killed that girl!
Tommy was trying to place Odell Titsworth, a name he had heard but a man he'd never met. Odell lived somewhere around Ada, he thought, and he had a bad reputation, but Tommy could not remember meeting him. Maybe he'd seen him once or twice, but at the moment he couldn't remember, because Smith was yelling and pointing and ready to punch him.
Smith repeated his theory about the three men snatching the girl, and Tommy said no. No, I had nothing to do with it. "I don't even know Odell Titsworth." Yes, you do, Smith corrected him. Stop lying. Karl Fontenot's involvement in their theory was easier to understand because he and Tommy had been friends off and on for a couple of years. But Tommy was bewildered by the accusations and terrified of the smug certainty of Smith and Rogers. Back and forth they went with their threats and verbal abuse. The language deteriorated and soon included every profanity and obscenity on the list.
Tommy was sweating and dizzy and trying desperately to think rationally. He kept his responses short. No, I didn't do it. No, I wasn't involved. A few times he wanted to lash out with sarcastic comments, but he was scared. Smith and Rogers were erupting, and armed, and Tommy was locked in a room with them and Featherstone. His interrogation showed no signs of ending anytime soon.
After sweating through three hours with Featherstone and suffering an hour of torment from Smith and Rogers, Tommy really needed a break. He needed to find a restroom and smoke a cigarette and clear his head. He needed help, to talk to someone who could tell him what was going on.
Can I take a break? he asked.
Just a few more minutes, they said.
Tommy noticed a video camera on a nearby table, unplugged and neglecting the verbal battering under way. Surely, he thought, this cannot be standard police procedure.
Smith and Rogers repeatedly reminded Tommy that Oklahoma uses lethal injection to kill its killers. He was facing death, certain death, but there might be a way to avoid it. Come clean, tell what happened, lead them to the body, and they would use their influence to get him a deal.
"I didn't do it," Tommy kept saying.
He had a dream, Featherstone informed his two colleagues.
Tommy repeated the dream, and again it was met with disapproval. The three cops agreed that the dream made little sense, to which Tommy replied again, "Most dreams don't." But the dream gave the cops something to work with, and they began adding to it. The other two men in the truck were Odell Titsworth and Karl Fontenot, right?
No, Tommy insisted. The men in his dream were not identified. No names. Bullshit. The girl was Denice Haraway, right?
No, the girl was not identified in his dream. Bullshit.
For another hour, the cops added the necessary details to Tommy's dream, and every new fact was denied by him. It was just a dream, he kept saying over and over and over.
Just a dream.
Bullshit, said the cops.
After two hours of nonstop hammering, Tommy finally cracked. The pressure came from fear-Smith and Rogers were angry and seemed perfectly able and willing to slap him around if not outright shoot him-but also from the horror of wasting away on death row before finally getting executed.
And it was obvious to Tommy that he would not be allowed to leave until he gave the cops something. After five hours in the room, he was exhausted, confused, and almost paralyzed with fear.
He made a mistake, one that would send him to death row and eventually cost him his freedom for life.
Tommy decided to play along. Since he was completely innocent, and he assumed Karl Fontenot and Odell Titsworth were too, then give the cops what they want. Play along with their fiction. The truth would quickly be discovered. Tomorrow, or the next day, the cops would realize that the story did not check out. They would talk to Karl, and he would tell the truth. They would find Odell Titsworth, and he would laugh at them. Play along. Good police work will find the truth.
If his dream confession was sufficiently ridiculous, how could anyone believe it? Didn't Odell go in the store first?
Sure, why not, Tommy said. It was only a dream.
Now the cops were getting somewhere. The boy was finally breaking under their clever tactics. Robbery was the motive, right?
Sure, whatever, it was only a dream.
Throughout the afternoon, Smith and Rogers added more and more fiction to the dream, and Tommy played along.
It was only a dream.
Even as the grotesque "confession" was happening, the police should have realized they had serious problems. Detective Mike Baskin was waiting back in Ada at the police department, sitting by the phone and wishing he was at the OSBI in the thick of things.
Around 3:00 p.m.,
Gary Rogers called with great news-Tommy Ward was talking! Get in the car, drive out to the power plant west of town, and look for the body. Baskin raced off, certain the search would soon be over.
He found nothing, and realized he would need several men for a thorough search. He drove back to the police station. The phone rang again. The story had changed. There was an old burned house on the right as you approach the power plant. That's where the body is!
Baskin took off again, found the house, picked through the rubble, found nothing, and drove back to town.
His goose chase continued with the third call from Rogers. The story had changed yet again. Somewhere in the vicinity of the power plant and the burned house there was a concrete bunker. That's where they put the body.
Baskin rounded up two more officers and some floodlights, and took off again. They found the concrete bunker, and were still searching when darkness fell.
They found nothing.
With each call back from Baskin, Smith and Rogers made modifications to Tommy's dream. The hours dragged on, the suspect was beyond fatigue. They tag-teamed, back and forth, good cop, bad cop, voices low and almost sympathetic, then bursts of yelling, cursing, threatening. "You lyin' little sonofabitch!" was their favorite. Tommy had it screamed at him a thousand times.
"You'd better be glad Mike Baskin ain't here," Smith said. "Or he would blow your brains out." A bullet to the head would not have surprised Tommy.
After dark, when they realized that the body would not be found that day, Smith and Rogers decided to wrap up the confession. With the video camera still unplugged, they walked Tommy through their story, beginning with the three killers riding around in Odell Titsworth's pickup, planning the robbery, realizing Denice would identify them so they grabbed her, then decided to rape and kill her. The details on the location of the body were vague, but the detectives felt sure it was hidden somewhere near the power plant.
Tommy was brain-dead and barely able to mumble. He tried to recite their tale but kept getting the facts mixed up. Smith and Rogers would stop him, repeat their fiction, and make him start over. Finally, after four rehearsals with little improvement and their star fading fast, the cops decided to turn on the camera.
Do it now, they said to Tommy. Do it right, and none of that dream bullshit. "But the story ain't true," Tommy said.
Just tell it anyway, the cops insisted, then we'll help you prove it's not true. And none of that dream bullshit.
At 6:58 p.m., Tommy Ward looked at the camera and stated his name. He had been interrogated for eight and a half hours, and he was physically and emotionally wasted. He was smoking a cigarette, his first of the afternoon, and sitting before him was a soft drink can, as if he and cops were just finishing up a friendly little chat, everything nice and civilized.
He told his tale. He, Karl Fontenot, and Odell Titsworth kidnapped Denice Haraway from the store, drove out to the power plant on the west side of town, raped her, killed her, then tossed her body somewhere near a concrete bunker out by Sandy Creek. The murder weapon was Titsworth's lockblade knife.
It was all a dream, he said. Or meant to say. Or thought he said.
Several times he used the name "Titsdale." The detectives stopped him and helpfully suggested the name "Titsworth." Tommy corrected himself and plodded on. He kept thinking, Any blind cop could see that I'm lying.
Thirty-one minutes later, the video was turned off. Tommy was handcuffed, then driven back to Ada and thrown in jail. Mike Roberts was still waiting in the parking lot of the OSBI building. He'd been there for almost nine and a half hours.
The next morning, Smith and Rogers called a press conference and announced they had solved the Haraway case. Tommy Ward, age twenty-four, of Ada, had confessed and implicated two other men who were not yet in custody. The cops asked the press to sit on the story for a couple of days, until they could round up the other suspects. The newspaper complied, but a television station did not. The news was soon broadcast over southeastern Oklahoma.
A few hours later, Karl Fontenot was arrested near Tulsa and driven back to Ada. Smith and Rogers, fresh from their success with Tommy Ward, handled the interrogation. Though a video recorder was ready, no tape was made of the questioning. Karl was twenty years old and had been living on his own since he was sixteen. He grew up in Ada, in wretched poverty-his father had been an alcoholic and Karl had witnessed his mother's death in an auto accident. He was an impressionable kid with few friends and virtually no family.
He insisted he was innocent and knew nothing about the Haraway disappearance. Karl proved to be considerably easier to break than Tommy, and in less than two hours Smith and Rogers had another taped confession, one suspiciously similar to Ward's. Karl repudiated his confession immediately after he was placed in jail, and would later state: "I've never been in jail or had a police record in my life and no one in my face telling me I'd killed a pretty woman, that I'm going to get the death penalty so I told them the story hoping they would leave me alone. Which they did after I taped the statement. They said I had a choice to write it or tape it. I didn't even know what the word statement or confessing meant till they told me I confessed to it. So that's the reason I gave them an untrue statement so they would leave me alone."
The police made sure the story got to the press. Ward and Fontenot had made full confessions. The Haraway mystery was solved, most of it anyway. They were working on Titsworth, and expected to charge all three with murder in a matter of days. The site of the burned house was located, and the police found the remains of what appeared to be a jawbone. This was soon reported in the Ada Evening News. In spite of the careful coaching, Karl's confession was a mess. There were huge discrepancies between his version of the crime and Tommy's. The two were in direct contradiction on such details as the order in which the three raped Denice, whether or not she was stabbed by her attackers during the rape, the location and number of stab wounds, whether or not she managed to break free and run a few steps before being caught, and when she finally died. The most glaring discrepancy was how they killed her and what they did with her body.
Tommy Ward said she received multiple knife wounds while lying in the back of Odell's pickup during the gang rape. She died there, and they flung her body into a ditch near a concrete bunker. Fontenot didn't recall it that way. In his version, they took her into an abandoned house where Odell Titsworth stabbed her, stuffed her beneath the floor, then poured gasoline over her and burned down the house.
But the two were in almost complete agreement on Odell Titsworth. He had been the organizer, the mastermind who rounded up Ward and Fontenot to go riding in his pickup, to drink some beer, smoke some pot, and at some point rob McAnally's. Once the gang had decided on which store to rob, Odell went in and stole the money, grabbed the girl, and told his buddies they would have to kill her so she couldn't identify them. He drove out to the power plant. He directed the gang rape, going first himself. He produced the weapon, a six-inch lock-blade knife. He stabbed her, killed her, and either he burned her or he did not.
Though they admitted their involvement, the real blame rested on Odell Titsworth, or Titsdale, or whatever his name was.
Late in the afternoon of Friday, October 19, the police arrested Titsworth and questioned him. He was a four-time convicted felon with a lousy attitude toward cops and far greater experience with their interrogation tactics. He didn't budge an inch. He knew nothing about the Har-away case, didn't give a damn what Ward and Fontenot said, on tape or off. He had never met either of the gentlemen.
No video was made of his interrogation. Titsworth was thrown in jail, where he soon recalled that on April 26 he had broken his arm in a fight with the police. Two days later, when Denice disappeared, he had been at his girlfriend's house, wearing a heavy cast and in great pain.
In both confessions, he had been described as wearing a T-shirt, with tattoos covering his arms. In truth, his left arm had been covered with a cast and he'd been nowhere near McAnally's. When Dennis Smith investigated this, he found hospital and police records that clearly verified Odell's story. Smith spoke with the treating physician, who described the break as a spiral fracture between the elbow and shoulder and very painful. It would have been impossible for Titsworth to carry a body or commit a violent attack only two days after the fracture. His arm was in a cast, and the cast was in a sling. Impossible.
The confessions continued to unravel. As the police sifted through the rubble of the burned house, its owner appeared and asked what they were doing. When he was told that they were looking for the remains of the Haraway girl, and that one of the suspects had confessed to burning her with the house, the owner said that was not possible. He'd burned the old house himself in June 1983, ten months before she disappeared.
The state medical examiner completed an analysis of the jawbone and concluded that it came from a possum. This was given to the press.
However, the press was not told of the burned house or Odell Titsworth's broken arm, nor of the fact that Ward and Fontenot had immediately repudiated their confessions. In jail, Ward and Fontenot were adamant about their innocence and told anyone who would listen that the confessions were extracted by threats and promises. The Ward family scraped together enough money to hire a good lawyer, and Tommy described to him in great detail the tricks used by Smith and Rogers during the interrogation. It was just a dream, he said a thousand times.
There was no family for Karl Fontenot.
The search for the remains of Denice Haraway continued in earnest. The obvious question asked by many was, "If those two confessed, then why don't the police know where the body is buried? "
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against self-incrimination, and since the easiest way to solve a crime is to get a confession, there is a thick and rich body of law that governs police conduct during interrogations. Much of this law was well established before 1984.
A hundred years earlier, in Hopt v. Utah, the Supreme Court ruled that a confession is not admissible if it is obtained by operating on the hopes or fears of the accused, and in doing so deprives him of the freedom of will or self-control necessary to make a voluntary statement.
In 1897, the Court, in Bram v. United States, said that a statement must be free and voluntary, not extracted by any sorts of threats or violence or promises, however slight. A confession obtained from an accused who has been threatened cannot be admissible. In 1960, in Blackburn v. Alabama, the Court said, "Coercion can be mental as well as physical." In reviewing whether a confession was psychologically coerced by the police, the following factors are crucial: (1) the length of the interrogation, (2) whether it was prolonged in nature, (3) when it took place, day or night, with a strong suspicion around nighttime confessions, and (4) the psychological makeup-intelligence, sophistication, education, and so on-of the suspect.
And in Miranda v. Arizona, the most famous of all self-incrimination cases, the Supreme Court imposed procedural safeguards to protect the rights of the accused. A suspect has a constitutional right not to be compelled to talk, and any statement made during an interrogation cannot be used in court unless the police and the prosecutor can prove that the suspect clearly understood that (1) he had the right to remain silent, (2) anything said could be used against him in court, and (3) he had a right to an attorney, whether or not he could afford one. If, during an interrogation, the accused requests an attorney, then the questioning stops immediately.
Miranda was decided in 1966 and became instantly famous. Many police departments ignored it, at least until guilty criminals were set free because they had not been properly advised of their rights. It was harshly criticized by law-and-order types who accused the Court of coddling the bad guys. It worked its way into our culture, with every cop on TV spitting out the words "You have the right to remain silent" as he made his arrest. Rogers, Smith, and Featherstone knew its importance because they made sure Tommy's Miranda procedure was properly recorded. What was not seen on the video was the five and a half hours of nonstop threats and verbal abuse.
The confessions of Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot were constitutional disasters, but at the time, in October 1984, the cops still believed they would find the body, and thus some credible evidence. Any trial was months away. They still had plenty of time to build a solid case against Ward and Fontenot, or so they thought.
But Denice was not found. Tommy and Karl had no idea where she was, and they repeatedly told this to the police. Months dragged on with no evidence, not a shred of it. The confessions became more and more important; indeed, they were to become the only evidence the state had at trial.