Tyrone Maintains His Innocence and Passes Polygraph Test
For more than two decades Tyrone has steadfastly maintained his innocence, and he passed a polygraph test in 1992 further supporting his innocence claim [link to polygraph]. After passing the polygraph, the prosecutor dropped charges against him. Earlier in 1992, the prosecution was under intense pressure to solve the Hartig murders. Ron Craig, an investigator with the Portage County Prosecutor’s Office was brought in to question Butch Wolcott, Joey Dalesandro, and Gary St. Clair. Tyrone did not confess to the Hartig murders, but under extreme duress and threats by the prosecution investigator, his co-defendants did, implicating themselves and Tyrone in the Hartig murders.
Co-defendants Coerced and Manipulated by Prosecution Investigator
Craig began by approaching the youngest of the four friends, 16-year-old Butch Wolcott, who was only 14-years old when the Hartigs were killed. Craig told Butch that he had an eyewitness that could place Butch at the scene, that he had Butch’s DNA from the crime scene, and that Butch would spend the rest of his life in prison unless he implicated Tyrone. He also sent Butch to a psychologist who told Butch he was repressing his memory of the crime. [link to Butch’s affidavit] Attorney Bruce Brubaker confirms Butch’s statement, noting that authorities told him there was an eyewitness and DNA that linked Butch to the murders. [link to Brubaker affidavit] With Craig’s help, Butch began crafting a story that implicated Tyrone.
Given Butch’s youthful age, it’s not surprising that he was manipulated into falsely implicating Tyrone and himself. “[T]rickery by the police, particularly when applied to those of immature minds, may cause, with a substantial degree of probability, false confessions.” Singletary v. Fischer, 365 F. Supp.2d 328, 336 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 20, 2005) (citations omitted). Indeed “psychological interrogation techniques are a major contributing factor to the false confession problems, which is magnified when the individual is a child.” Richard A. Leo & Richard J. Ofshe, The Consequences of False Confessions: Deprivations of Liberty and Miscarriages of Justice in the Age of Psychological Interrogations, 88 J.Crim. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 429, 472-96 (1998)). Butch was the most vulnerable to Craig’s tactics. Once Butch falsely confessed, it did not take long to manipulate and coerce Joey and Gary into also implicating Tyrone. Both young men tell the same story of manipulation by Craig. [link to Dalesandro affidavit] [link to St. Clair affidavit]
Joey’s Lost Deal and Butch’s Pleas for Assurance
Having strong-armed false confessions from Joey Dalesandro and Butch Wolcott, the sweet deals they received in return weighed heavily on their minds.
Shortly before Tyrone was re-indicted for the Hartigs’ murders, the State rescinded its plea agreement with Joey. A new sentencing hearing was held. The State argued that Joey had not fully cooperated as was required by his plea agreement. Prosecutors asked the court to sentence him to the maximum of eight to fifteen years. Joey protested saying that the prosecutors were trying to put words into his mouth about the murders. He told the court: “They want to throw words in my mouth and I can’t let them do that. I told them my story once. They want me to go in there, you know, and try to yell at me to say stuff and I ain’t going to say nothing that ain’t true, you know.” After Joey received the maximum sentence, he wrote a letter to the Portage County prosecutor asking to have his deal reinstated and promising to cooperate in Tyrone’s prosecution. His testimony improved to benefit the State and further incriminated Tyrone. [link to Dalesandro trans excerpts]
Similar problems are apparent in Butch’s pre-trial statements. He asked the prosecutor at one point if he was “finally on his side.” [Link to Wolcott trans excerpts] He went on to admit he didn’t know what he was telling the investigators:
For some reason I’m not sure. Like I said, I can remember a garage but I can’t explain it to you. Just seems like for some reason it’s another house and another dream. I don’t know if what I’m telling you is in my mind, I mean, I’m not sure if it’s mixed with other things or not about details of the house and road and so on and so forth. I mean, it could be some other house, some other road I have seen. Do you know what I mean. Just what you told me. [Link to Wolcott trans excerpts]
Nationally Renowned Expert: Co-Defendant’s “Confessions” are False
Nationally renowned false confession expert Richard Ofshe has reviewed Butch’s, Joey’s, and Gary’s various statements. His conclusion—Butch, Joey, and Gary’s confessions were produced through coercive interrogation tactics and possess indicia of false confession; these statements “should be classified as unreliable.” [link to first Ofshe affidavit] [link to 2nd Ofshe affidavit]
Why Would Someone Confess to a Crime He Did Not Commit?
It doesn’t seem possible, but in actuality, false confessions occur far more frequently than one would imagine. According to the Innocence Project, 25% of DNA exonerations included incriminating statements, confessions, or guilty pleas. See http://www.innocenceproject.org/understand/False-Confessions.php.
A former D.C. homicide detective notes, “Threats and coercion sometimes lead innocent people to confess, but even the calmest, most standardized interrogations can lead to a false confession or admission. Those who are mentally ill or mentally disabled may be particularly vulnerable, but anyone can be dazed when confronted by police officers who claim to hold unshakable evidence of one’s guilt. Some confess to crimes because they want to please authority figures or to protect another person. Some actually come to believe they are guilty, or confess to do penance for some unrelated bad behavior. Innocent people come to believe that they will receive a harsher sentence — even the death penalty — if they don’t confess.” Jim Trainum, Get it on Tape, LA Times (Oct. 24, 2008). See http://articles.latimes.com/2008/oct/24/opinion/oe-trainum24.