Netflix’s ‘The Confession Tapes’ was a riveting watch from start to finish. Six cases that supposedly had found the right perpetrator(s), only for the documentary to provide a compelling argument on each occasion to prove otherwise. After watching, viewers are left with the feeling that there have been several miscarriages of justice. The six cases revolved around murders, and showed the worrying power that Police can impose upon someone, and the shocking tactics and psychological tricks that are sometimes used to induce a confession. In this article, we take a look at the six different cases, ranking them from most likely to least likely to be guilty, based on the arguments put forward by the show.
6. ‘The Labor Day Murders’ – Buddy Woodall
It should be noted from the start that all six cases have compelling arguments to suggest the perpetrators were wrongfully convicted. But this case is arguably the one which is most likely to be guilty, due to the abundance of evidence, albeit some circumstantial. In this case, in 2000, John Lavelle Lynn and Robert Arthur VanAllen are murdered. They were lured to the murder site by a phone call. The phone call was placed from a convenience store, with CCTV confirming that Buddy Woodall – the nephew of one of the victims – was present at around the time the call was made. Woodall was eventually questioned, and confessed eventually to helping a man named David Wimberly carry out the murder. This confession was secured after hours of interrogation. The men were tried separately, but while Woodall was convicted, Wimberly’s case was dropped. The suggestion is that perhaps Woodall being at the convenience store was coincidental. Little is known of Wimberly. Woodall maintains his innocence.
5. ‘Trial by Fire’ – Karen Boes
Back in 2002, a gas can started a fire that burned down a house in Michigan – which killed 14 year-old Robin Boes. Her mother – Karen Boes – was shopping at the time of the fire. She was immediately suspected of causing the fire. She was subjected to many hours of interrogations, which eventually resulted in a confession. At her trial, many experts testified, with the prosecution putting forward a strong argument to suggest her guilt. One witness broke the code of anonymity from Alcoholics Anonymous to reveal that Karen had told her she ‘hated’ her daughter. A differing hypothesis was that Robin had actually commit suicide. There was some evidence to support this theory, and the gas can that was used to start the fire had been missing for weeks prior to being found in Robin’s room. A suicide verdict could easily have been achieved, and Karen Boes maintains her innocence. Many consider her confession to be false – and achieved thanks to psychological tricks. But the view of the experts, and witness testimony do provide some support for the conviction.
4. ‘Down River’ – Lawrence DeLisle
In 1990, Lawrence DeLisle, his wife and four children were on a family outing, when their car crashed into a river at high speed. The windshield shattered upon impact, allowing Lawrence and his wife to get to safety. The four children all died. DeLisle claimed his leg cramped, and that the accelerator was stuck. He confessed during a long interrogation – an interrogation that DeLisle’s attorney compared to hypnosis. DeLisle was clearly tired, and his attorney claimed he suffered a nervous breakdown. His confession was deemed inadmissible in court, but video footage of the confession was released to the media. Subsequently, a ‘trial by media’ takes place, with media outlets reporting heavily on the case. The jury were surely swayed by the coverage, and found DeLisle guilty of four murders and an attempted murder. Tests on his car supported the theory that the accelerator stuck. But witnesses stated they had seen the car in the area on a few occasions before, suggesting pre-meditation. The trial by media clearly had a huge effect on the case. It certainly appears DeLisle didn’t have a fair trial, but all of his appeals have been exhausted.
3. ‘True East’ – Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns
Episode 1 & 2
The infamous Rafay killings saw Atif Rafay’s parents and sister murdered. Burns and Rafay were away from the murder site, and were seen in multiple locations during the night of the murders. The two were the victim of a controversial Mr. Big sting operation, which led to a confession. To summarise, the duo were coaxed into working for a fictitious criminal organisation, that in reality was undercover Police officers. In a meeting with the head of the criminal organisation – ‘Mr. Big’ (actually a skilled Police interrogator) – Burns eventually confessed. Yet there was considerable evidence to suggest an extremist group were responsible for the killing – with a Police informant even providing the names of those supposedly responsible. Yet the court refused to allow this evidence – effectively signing their prison warrant. Both maintain their innocence, but are spending their life in prison. When reviewing all of the evidence, it is unlikely they commit the murders.
2. ‘8th and H’ – Various Defendants
All the way back in 1984, Catherine Fuller was brutally murdered in Washington DC. In the aftermath, detectives went on an arresting frenzy, arresting no fewer than seventeen individuals – all believed to have been part of the ‘8th and H street crew’ – a gang that many deny even existed. The murder took place near 8th and H street. Clifton Yarborough – one of the 17 – gave an inconsistent account that implied the entire 17 had been present. Yarborough had learning difficulties, and many believed the confession was false – as he didn’t truly understand what was happening. All 17 men stood trial, which caused chaos – with the 17 defence lawyers working against one another instead of operating a united front. Following months of deliberation, 8 of the 17 were convicted, and some are still in prison. The alternate theory is that the gang didn’t exist, that Yarborough’s conviction was false, and that actually – James McMillan – a convicted rapist and thief, who lived and was spotted in the area – was responsible. The Police were accused of concealing this evidence.
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1. ‘A Public Apology’ – Wesley Myers
Back in 1997, Teresa Haught was murdered. Haught’s boyfriend – Wesley Myers, instantly became the number one suspect for Police. Following hours of intense interrogation – the Police obtained three confessions – one in a written statement, one audio statement, and even one in front of a news reporter. But Police appeared to use false information to scare Myers into a confession. He stated his confession was false, but a jury found him guilty. He was eventually released from Prison due to DNA evidence coming to light – though it took him three years to actually leave Prison. Myers had an alibi for the murder. Many believed another man was culpable, having been seen in the area of the night in question. It is worth noting years later that Myers plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter – due to the fear of another criminal trial, and to ensure no more prison time. Ironic huh – that the only case to see a defendant plead guilty tops our list.
Putting these six cases into an order was difficult – and it really boiled down to what evidence was available. There are strong arguments to suggest all involved are innocent. However it should also be remembered that despite other theories – no other people were ever convicted for these crimes. Perhaps what is most worrying is that the majority of these cases would be left unknown had it not been known for this documentary. You wonder about all the other cases of wrongful convictions. This is an important point that should be remembered – no one deserves to be wrongfully incarcerated and have their life cruelly taken away from them.