Did Craig Michael Wood give a false confession in Hailey Owens case

Monday, May 19, 2014

Good morning:

Craig Michael Wood is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Thursday, May 22nd. The hearing was originally scheduled for April 24th, but the judge reset the hearing at the request of Wood’s attorneys because they wanted additional time to consider two new charges added by the prosecution to the three original charges: first degree murder, kidnapping and armed criminal action.

The two new charges are rape and sodomy. The prosecutor said they are based on recently available information obtained at the autopsy.

As most of my regular readers know, Wood is accused of kidnapping 10-year-old Hailey Owens as she was walking home. There appears to be no doubt that he is guilty because neighbors witnessed the abduction and described the kidnapper’s pickup truck, including providing a license plate number. Police used that plate to identify the registered owner, who turned out to be Wood’s father and he provided them with Wood’s address. They found her dead body a few hours later in the basement of Wood’s home. She had been shot in the back of the head.

I believe all of us suspected a sexual motive for the abduction and the addition of the two charges confirms our worst suspicions. Wood has apparently confessed to the crime, but his statement has not been released to the public.

Because this will almost certainly be a death penalty case, the court has appointed Patrick J. Berrigan and Thomas Jaquinot to represent Wood. Berrigan and Jaquinot are death-penalty lawyers who work for the Capital Division of the Missouri Public Defenders Office. Berrigan has considerable experience handling death cases and an excellent reputation.

They have filed a motion to exclude Wood’s statement asserting that he was drunk, drugged and mentally ill when police took him into custody, that they failed to advise him that he had a right to remain silent and refuse to answer their questions, that they ignored his request to consult with counsel before answering their questions and that they coerced him into providing a statement by promising they would go easy on him, if he cooperated and told them the truth.

Assuming for the sake of argument that the assertions are true, the statement would be inadmissible because it was involuntary and obtained in violation of the Miranda rule.

Whenever the prosecution seeks to use a defendant’s confession against him to prove guilt, one should immediately consider whether the confession contains truthful information. As the video at the beginning of this article demonstrates, false confessions are a reality and one of the causes of wrongful convictions of innocent people.

While the evidence against Mr. Wood appears to be substantial, I recommend against assuming he is guilty. For example, eyewitness identifications are notoriously unreliable and we do not know if someone else might have been involved. Forensic fraud is another major cause of wrongful convictions as are police and prosecutorial misconduct.

Therefore, watch the video and let’s see if there is any evidence that he was coerced into confessing to a crime he did not commit.

Finally, “The System with Joe Berlinger,” which premiered last night on Al Jazeera America, will explore the complexities of the U.S. criminal justice system in an eight-part series that uses real cases to question the effectiveness of laws. Looks to be an excellent documentary. Check it out.

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2 Responses to Did Craig Michael Wood give a false confession in Hailey Owens case

  1. Tee says:

    I agree with you professor about false confessions, what makes me believe that he gave it fully aware of what he was saying and doing is in his lawyers statement. When his lawyer says he was drunk, drugged, and mentally I’ll, while asking for a lawyer and conscious of his mirander rights were vilolated makes me belive that he gave the statement with full knowledge of what he was doing. He can’t have it both ways, he can’t be out of his mind when it came to the confession, but fully aware that his rights were being violated. Even if the statement was thrown out and the witnesses all discounted, how would he explain the body being in his home, he would have to pin it on his dad being that he has access to the truck and maybe the house.

    • I suspect you are right about his confession being voluntary, but just to play devil’s advocate with you, his lawyers may have pointed out some problems with the interrogation that he did not realize at the time. For example, they may have asked him if he was mirandized before he gave the statement and now he realizes that a failure to do that was a significant omission that he did not realize at the time. That is, he would not have given a statement, if they had mirandized him.

      Police usually record interrogations, including the advice of rights and voluntary waiver of those rights as required by Miranda. We saw the Jacksonville PD detectives do that with Michael Dunn.

      The two rights are the 5th amendment right to remain silent and the 6th amendment right to consult with counsel.

      I believe it’s possible they did not mirandize him, but I regard that possibility as unlikely.

      If they didn’t and if they did not record or videotape the interrogation, I expect they will lie in court and claim they did mirandize him.

      For example, the FBI never records or videotapes interrogations or witness interviews because they figure they will always win swearing contests against defendants and witnesses.

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