WHEN A POLICE OFFICER BRINGS A MURDER SUSPECT IN FOR QUESTIONING, THERE WILL BE AN EXTRA SET OF EYES WATCHING.
STARTING TODAY, ALL INTERROGATIONS IN ILLINOIS HOMICIDE CASES MUST BE TAPED.
AN AREA ATTORNEY SAYS HE BELIEVES THIS NEW LAW COULD HAVE PREVENTED A RECENT FALSE MURDER CONFESSION FROM TAKING PLACE.
A 14-YEAR-OLD BOY CONFESSES TO A MURDER AT THE TWO-WHEEL INN IN WINNEBAGO COUNTY. IT WAS A MURDER HE DIDN'T COMMIT. BUT THE TEEN PUT HIMSELF AND 17-YEAR-OLD JAMES COFIELD AT THE SCENE OF THE CRIME DURING AN INTERROGATION WITH WINNEBAGO COUNTY INVESTIGATORS.
"Had they had the videotape equipment in place, I doubt very seriously that they would've obtained a confession," says Randy Wilt, the teens’ attorney.
BUT STARTING MONDAY ALL INTERROGATIONS OF HOMICIDE SUSPECTS IN ILLINOIS WILL BE RECORDED. THE GOAL IS TO PREVENT FALSE CONFESSIONS BECAUSE OF POLICE COERCION, BRUTALITY OR UNFAIR PROMISES.
"It's helpful from my perspective because I know that my client is being truthful [...]. It's helpful from the state's perspective if you can see the suspect wasn't under stress," adds Wilt.
WINNEBAGO COUNTY DEPUTY CHIEF KURT DITZLER SAYS TAPING INTERROGATIONS WILL ALSO PROTECT POLICE FROM FALSE ACCUSATIONS.
"For those who have doubts about how police do their interviews - if they watch TV a lot and think we all do our interviews like NYPD Blue - I think this will show that's not the case."
LEGAL EXPERTS ARGUE POLICE COULD STILL INFLUENCE SUSPECTS - ON THE WAY TO THE STATION OR DURING A BATHROOM BREAK FOR EXAMPLE - WHEN CAMERAS ARE OFF. BUT MOST AGREE IT IS A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION; ONE MORE PIECE OF EVIDENCE TO SHOW WHAT HAPPENED BEHIND THE CLOSED DOORS OF THE INTERROGATION ROOM.
17-YEAR-OLD JAMES COFIELD AND THE 14-YEAR-OLD TEEN HAVE SINCE FILED A CIVIL SUIT AGAINST WINNEBAGO COUNTY, CLAIMING THEY SUFFERED EMOTIONAL DAMAGE FROM THEIR ARREST, INTERROGATION AND IMPRISONMENT; THAT CASE IS IN ITS PRELIMINARY STAGES.