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FALSE CONFESSIONS

Allegations of Abuses Mar Murder Cases

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By April Witt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 3, 2001; Page A01

First of four articles

The room is cramped and cold. The floor and walls are carpeted to muffle sound. A small table and two chairs are the only furnishings. There is no window, no clock, no clue to when night becomes day.

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After 28 hours in that interrogation room, Keith Longtin was so exhausted he wondered if he'd lost his mind.

"The detective said, 'Well, thanks for making a confession . . . ' " Longtin recalled. "I'm like, 'What? I didn't admit to anything.' . . . He said, 'Yes, you did.' "

Longtin spent the next eight months in jail, charged with the 1999 slaying of his wife while Prince George's County homicide detectives overlooked DNA evidence that would set him free.

Eventually, other investigators -- not the homicide squad -- linked the DNA to a man they now say is the real killer. While Longtin was in jail, that man allegedly sexually assaulted seven women.

Prince George's County homicide detectives have coerced confessions and denied suspects lawyers during marathon interrogations that appear to violate state rules and exceed bounds set by other police agencies, according to a yearlong investigation by The Washington Post. The investigation involved dozens of interviews with lawyers and suspects and the review of hundreds of police and court documents.

In four cases, Prince George's homicide detectives took suspects into their interrogation rooms and extracted confessions to murder that later proved false. The confessions put the wrong men behind bars while the killers remained free to commit other crimes.

The four false confessions were made by Longtin; a teenager with learning disabilities who said he stabbed a friend; a high school senior who implicated himself in a triple shooting; and an illiterate janitor who shakily signed a statement a detective wrote for him confessing to slaying a co-worker.

The four men were detained in the interrogation room from 11 to more than 38 hours. Three of the four insist that detectives refused to let them speak with a lawyer. And in each case, the suspect's alleged statement was virtually the only evidence homicide detectives used to charge him with murder.

In two of the cases examined by The Post, the trail went so cold while Prince George's police focused on what prosecutors eventually concluded was the wrong man that the true killer is still free. In all four cases, homicide detectives misread, ignored or lost evidence and failed to follow significant leads, records and interviews show.

In each case, the man was exonerated only through the intervention of outsiders -- detectives from other units, savvy lawyers and crime lab experts -- and not Prince George's homicide detectives.


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