New York Times, Aug. 27, 2002
Eddie Joe Lloyd has served 17 years of a life sentence for the rape and murder of a Detroit teenager, a crime he confessed to. At his sentencing, the judge said he regretted that Michigan had no death penalty. But yesterday the same judge freed Mr. Lloyd after prosecutors and defense lawyers submitted DNA evidence exonerating him. Mr. Lloyd is the 110th person nationwide to be freed based on DNA testing.
In Mr. Lloyd’s case, the problem was the prosecution’s heavy reliance on his confession. Mr. Lloyd was in a mental hospital and on medication when he confessed. Rather than press for details that would have been known only to the killer — the proper way to ensure that a confession is legitimate — the police fed him information about the crime. In the end, all Mr. Lloyd’s signed confession proved was that under pressure to solve a high-profile murder, the police could find a way to get a mentally ill man to take the rap.
Every DNA reversal is a lesson in the problems with one prosecutorial tool or another. Witnesses are unreliable. Criminals will lie in exchange for lenient treatment. Mr. Lloyd’s case shows that even a signed confession is not always what it seems. And it provides further proof that the American justice system is imperfect at best, and frequently far too flawed to rely on capital punishment. In 1985 Mr. Lloyd’s judge decried Michigan’s lack of a death penalty, but its absence now appears to be all that prevented him from sentencing an innocent man to die.
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