Why do parents falsely confess to killing their kids?

August 4, 2010 4:04:10 PM PDT
For many it would be hard to imagine the pain of losing a child. Experts say, the grieving, the sleeplessness and the overwhelming trauma of the loss can cause a rational person to do irrational things.

Jerry Hobbs' conviction was based on the fact that he falsely confessed to the crime of killing his daughter and her friend. Kevin Fox also falsely confessed to the murder of his daughter whose body was found in Wilmington. His confession was eventually thrown out. So what would make parents confess to killing their children if they didn't?

Days after the bodies of two girls were found in a Zion park in 2005, one of the girl's fathers confessed to the murders. Jerry Hobbs was accused in the murders until today.

Attorneys with Northwestern's Center on Wrongful Conviction plan to represent Hobbs in a yet-to-be-filed civil case.

"When I met Jerry Hobbs I could tell he was in pain over the loss of this child. I knew in a minute that he wouldn't have killed this child," said Rob Warden, NU Center on Wrongful Convictions.

Center director Warden wrote a book last year called True Stories of False Confessions. In the book, he details 29 cases in which innocent people confessed to crimes they did not commit. He says police have the upper hand using deception and unrelenting pressure.

"After a certain number of hours, people just crack, and they can't take it anymore and they will say anything to stop this interrogation," said Warden.

In 2004 Kevin Fox falsely confessed to killing his daughter Riley. He spent eight months in jail before DNA linked the murder to someone else.

Fox talked about the 14-hour interrogation in an interview with 20/20.

"They showed me a picture of Riley in the creek, dead, bound, mud on her face, hair over her face, and that was just the breaking point," said Fox.

"It is very hard. It would be impossible for anyone in that situation to think rationally about anything," said Dr. Robert Galatzer-Levy, psychiatrist.

Psychiatrist Robert Galatzer-Levy says expertise of interrogators combined with a scared and grieving parent could create a confusing situation for a parent being interrogated.

"The parent is likely to be overwrought and enormously distressed, and in some sense feel guilty even though they're not guilty of what they're being accused of," said Galatzer-Levy.

Warden hopes that videotaping interrogations and confessions with will reduce false confessions. But his center is currently representing two other men -- besides Hobbs -- who allege the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force investigators forced them into making false confessions.


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